LONDON: Internet service providers such as BT and AOL could be forced to disconnect customers suspected of piracy if controversial UK government proposals receive approval.

Under the new plans, secretary of state Lord Mandelson, rather than the communications regulator body Ofcom, would be given the final decision over whether or not to disconnect those downloading copyrighted music or movies.

“We are considering the case for adding suspension of accounts into the list of measures that could be imposed,” the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said, but added that this “should be regarded as very much a last resort.”

The new plans significantly harden previous proposals to simply write to those suspected of copyright infringements, with the ultimate sanction of handing over the details of persistent offenders.

In recent months though, rights-holders have stepped up their lobbying of the government on this issue.

However, the latest proposal has upset both ISPs and consumer groups and will not be passed without a fight.

Jim Killock, executive director of digital rights campaign group Open Rights, said: “Suspension of internet access would restrict people's fundamental right to freedom of expression. It would also fly in the face of the government's policy of universal broadband access."

Any attempt to disconnect broadband subscribers could fall foul of EU legislation classifying internet access as a human right.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff