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Digital economy bill audit issues hitting hard

The bill follows the launch in 2009 of the European data retention directive which will force internet service providers to trace and identify the source, destination, type and time/duration of internet communications.

The UK government subsequently drafted a digital economy bill aimed at ISPs identifying individuals illegally downloading, with the service provider then issuing a report which would include a description of the apparent infringements, along with evidence.

The British Hospitality Association – which represents hotel and guest house owners across the UK – says that the bill fails to take their sector of the marketplace into account.

Although ISPs would be responsible for reporting any illegal activity, hotels would still be required to provide information about offending guests and hand them copyright reports, which the association calls unrealistic.

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the BHA, said that, if the bill is passed in its present form, "the difficulties of applying this bill to the hospitality industry - with its transient user profile - appear not to have been considered."

"We are making representations to the government to highlight our concerns", he said.

The BHA says that that hotels would have difficulty identifying guests accessing the internet over a wireless network, especially those using pre-paid cards.

The association adds that hotels would also have no way of knowing which users had been penalised in the past.

According to the BHA, pubs, cafes and restaurants offering public internet access could also encounter similar issues if the bill is to come into effect.

And it appears the BHA is not alone in its analysis of the bill's requirements, as the government's joint select committee on human rights has said the bill needed "clarification."

Reporting on the committee's announcement over the weekend, the BBC quoted its chairman, Andrew Dismore, MP, as saying the internet is constantly creating new challenges for policy-makers.

"But", he said, "that cannot justify ill-defined or sweeping legislative responses, especially when there is the possibility of restricting freedom of expression or the privacy of individual users."

"The concern we have with this bill is that it lacks detail," said Dismore. "It has been difficult, even in the narrow area we have focused on, to get a clear picture of the scope and impact of the provisions", he added.

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