In January of this year Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN successfully sought an injunction against Internet providers Ziggo and XS4ALL, forcing them to block access to the Pirate Bay for their customers. BREIN went after the providers because the Pirate Bay itself ignores a previous court order demanding the cessation of their activities in the Netherlands.
The blockade of the Pirate Bay was quickly circumvented through the use of so-called ‘proxy servers’. The Dutch Pirate Party, a political party seeking copyright reform, operated such a proxy server and encouraged people to bypass the blockade. Unsurprisingly, BREIN demanded an end to these activities by the Pirate Party.
The result was a public outcry against BREIN. Many Internet experts in the Netherlands, including legal scholars, applauded the move by the Pirate Party. The Pirate Party itself cried shame upon BREIN, accusing them of censorship and Big Brother practices. Few seem to care about the ramifications of the Pirate Party’s conduct though.
Let me make one thing very clear before I continue: I’m not a fan of blocking sites or filtering the Internet. There are very serious risks and drawbacks attached to blocking and filtering. But having said that, I do feel that the actions of the Pirate Party are wrong and even pose a threat to the rule of law.
We live in a democratic, constitutional state. BREIN has simply used the legal means at their disposal and followed the route prescribed by the law. You may disagree with BREIN (and there are good reasons for doing so), but in the end it is up to our independent judiciary to determine whether their demand for a blockade is an effective and proportional measure that respects subsidiarity.
It is clear that the Pirate Party disagrees with the verdict handed down by the judge, which is their democratic right. But rather than supporting an appeal or seeking a change in the law, the Pirate Party decided to actively oppose the verdict and has taken steps to circumvent it. As such, their actions undermine the authority of our judiciary, and thus the foundation of our constitutional state. This is even more worrying given the fact that the Pirate Party is an official political party. A political party, even one that is not in power, should respect the separation of powers.
The Internet may be a different place than the physical world, but even on the Internet we need respect for the rule of law. As its aptly chosen name already suggests, the Pirate Party clearly has none.