Forthcoming laws to reduce the level of peer-to-peer copyright infringement with threats of disconnection will affect "hardly anybody, other than the most serious and egregious recidivistic offenders", according to culture minister Sion Simon.
The Digital Economy Bill, to be announced in the Queen's Speech next week, will mandate a regime of notifications warning against illegal filesharing, followed by restrictions on bandwidth and possible suspension of the broadband accounts of those who do not stop.
The plans have attracted claims by consumer groups and ISPs that innocent people could lose internet access, an increasingly vital service. Mistakes are inevitable given many poorly secured Wi-Fi networks and flawed infringement detection procedures, they argue.
In Commons questions on Monday, Simon dismissed such concerns. "People who have done nothing wrong should not be in any danger of having their internet interfered with at all," he said.
"Nobody will have their bandwidth squeezed or their account suspended until they have had repeated letters, been given a healthy notice period and then had a right of appeal — indeed, two rights of appeal."
Last week the European Parliament and EU member states agreed laws to guarantee internet users the right to a judicial appeal if they are threatened with disconnection for copyright infringement. They stopped short of moves by the Parliament for judicial oversight of entire enforcement regimes, which would have made the UK government's plans unworkable.
Answering a charge from his own backbenches that the government could be creating a sledgehammer to crack a nut, Simon said: "We are not creating a sledgehammer - we are creating a light-touch regime to enforce the existing law."
TalkTalk, the UK's second largest ISP, has been particularly vocal in its opposition to the plans. The firm, founded by two prominent Conservatiove donors, has even suggested it may mount a legal challenge.
The Tories support the planned laws however. Indeed, yesterday the shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested the regime should be brought in quicker.
"Will the Minister confirm that, assuming the successful passage of the Digital Economy Bill, the earliest an illegal file sharer could have their internet connection temporarily cut off is February 2012? That is hardly an example of the Government at their most decisive," he said.
"I am happy to confirm that the Conservatives support the proposals," Hunt added.
Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, with overall responsibility for the Bill, has suggested the timetable for implementing the enforcement regime will begin in April next year.
For 12 months internet users accused of infringing copyright via peer-to-peer will receive only warning letters asking them to stop. If by April 2012 the overall level of illegal filesharing as assessed by Ofcom has not reduced by 70 per cent, provisions of the Bill allowing bandwidth restrictions and account suspension will be triggered and in force in three months. ®