Legal impacts of digital technology on wider society

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Issues of privacy



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Explain the current ethical, legal and environmental impacts and risks of digital technology on society. Where data privacy issues arise these should be considered.



Exam questions will be taken from the following areas:

  • cyber security
  • mobile technologies
  • wireless networking
  • cloud storage
  • theft of computer code
  • issues around copyright of algorithms
  • cracking
  • hacking
  • wearable technologies
  • computer based implants.

Students will be expected to understand and explain the general principles behind the issues rather than have detailed knowledge on specific issues.

Students should be aware that ordinary citizens normally value their privacy and may not like it when governments or security services have too much access.

Students should be aware that governments and security services often argue that they cannot keep their citizens safe from terrorism and other attacks unless they have access to private data.


The Pirate Bay shutdown: the whole story (so far)

For the past decade, if you wanted to download copyrighted material and didn't want to pay for it, it's likely you turned to The Pirate Bay. Up until a police raid took it offline last week, it was the most popular place to grab Sunday's episode of The Newsroom or Gone Girl months before the Blu-ray hits stores. You didn't have to log in to some arcane message board or know someone to get an invite -- the anonymous file-sharing site was open to everybody and made piracy as simple as a Google search. That's what scared Hollywood.

The movie industry claimed that in 2006 alone, piracy cost it some $6.1 billion. Naturally, it went after the biggest target to exact its revenge: the Sweden-based site known as The Pirate Bay. Given Sweden's lax laws regarding copyrighted materials, Hollywood had to enlist the United States government for help cracking down on the site. The US threatened that unless something was done to take the site offline, it'd impose trade sanctions against Sweden by way of The World Trade Organization. That led to Swedish police raiding the outfit in 2006, confiscating enough servers and computer equipment to fill three trucks and making two arrests. Three days later, the site was back up and running and more popular than ever thanks to a swell of mainstream media coverage.


The Pirate Bay was the 97th most-visited website on the entire internet in 2008, according to Alexa data. During the 2009 trial that saw co-founders Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm charged with $3.6 million in fines, along with time behind bars for aiding in copyright infringement, it was reported that The Pirate Bay had some 22 million users -- roughly the population of Texas. We tried finding more recent information, but the official blog is offline too, and, even then, the outfit keeps current usage statistics incredibly close to its chest. The best we could come by was a graph showing an uptick in usage, sans any actual numbers to go with the jagged, but rising, horizontal line.

Because the site had to change domains a number of times before this last raid, in part to insulate itself from copyright laws, it's hard to gauge just how popular The Pirate Bay was before last week's shutdown. More information will likely surface in the coming weeks, as this latest raid is part of an ongoing investigation as well.


Instead of hosting the copyrighted material itself, The Pirate Bay maintained a database of the tracker files needed for users to download the "torrents" -- not the actual copyrighted content. Because you need a separate piece of software to actually use the torrent file and illegally download the content, The Pirate Bay saying it personally doesn't break copyright law is technically accurate.

Let's back up a moment: For the uninitiated, a torrent file is basically a set of instructions that tells your computer how to reassemble a large file from the relatively small pieces it downloads from however many hosts are sharing it at a given moment. It's faster than a 1:1 transfer because, unlike how Napster worked, no single user's bandwidth supports the entire transfer. Well, that and everyone only provides a minuscule portion of what you're downloading. It's "distributed" file sharing, and it subsequently distributes the blame when those files being shared are pirated material.

For example: Let's say that you wanted to watch the season finale of True Detective the night it aired, but HBO Go's servers broke and you couldn't. If you're impatient, the simple solution would include hitting The Pirate Bay, searching for "true detective episode eight" and grabbing the torrent file with the most "seeders" (people hosting the file). Depending on a few factors, you could get an HD version of the hour-long show in roughly 15 minutes or less. It was incredibly fast and easy enough for just about anyone to do, which made it especially dangerous.


The raid from eight years ago took The Pirate Bay offline briefly and forced the site to change its operations a bit. As a result, it moved to cloud-hosting in two separate countries running several virtual machine setups. In an interview with TorrentFreak, an unnamed Pirate Bay representative (Neij, Sunde and Svartholm sold the site to a possible shell company in 2006) boasted that the move made the site raid-proof and that there wouldn't be any servers to take, only a transit router -- one of the pieces of equipment used to hide the location of the cloud provider.
"If the police decide to raid us again there are no servers to take, just a transit router. If they follow the trail to the next country and find the load balancer, there is just a disk-less server there. In case they find out where the cloud provider is, all they can get are encrypted disk-images," The Pirate Bay says. "They have to be quick about it too, if the servers have been out of communication with the load balancer for 8 hours they automatically shut down. When the servers are booted up, access is only granted to those who have the encryption password," it adds.

Last Tuesday morning, Swedish police raided a Stockholm-area server room and left with "several" servers and computers, with official counts unavailable. This took not only The Pirate Bay down, but also related, and The Pirate Bay's message board, A handful of other torrent sites went down at the same time, with the Rights Alliance -- a Swedish anti-piracy group -- claiming that it made the complaint resulting in the Stockholm County Police's raid. Mirror (and impostor) sites have sprung up in the meantime, but for now, The Pirate Bay proper remains offline. It's hard to say whether that's a result of the website's raid countermeasures or police success.

In a recently posted interview with TorrentFreak, one of The Pirate Bay's associates said they weren't surprised by the shutdown, adding that it's something that goes with the territory. "We couldn't care less, really," someone going by the name Mr. 10100100000 said.

"We have however taken this opportunity to give ourselves a break. How long are we supposed to keep going? To what end? We were a bit curious to see how the public would react. Will we reboot? We don't know yet. But if and when we do, it'll be with a bang."

The Pirate Bay's closure does have one unexpected supporter, though: co-founder Sunde. He took to his blog last week lamenting what the site had become, chastising its reliance on ads for porn and Viagra, while relying on old and buggy code. Sunde wrote that the technology wasn't being taken further and the site had essentially lost its soul while the new owners clamored after cash, going so far as charging admission for The Pirate Bay's 10th birthday party. "The party had a set lineup with artists, scenes and so on, instead of just asking the people coming to bring the content. Everything went against the ideals that I worked for during my time as part of TPB," Sunde said.

Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde


That all depends on whom you ask. Variety reports that the day before the shutdown, nearly 102 million IP addresses were downloading torrented movies and TV shows. That dropped to 95 million the day after the December 9th shutdown, but by last Friday, pirate traffic was back up to just over 100 million IP addresses performing peer-to-peer downloads. A decrease? Sure, but nothing all that dramatic; this is a direct result of the hydra-like nature of piracy outfits in general. More or less, a series of shutdowns led to The Pirate Bay's rise to prominence anyway. Napster got shut down and LimeWire quickly took its place. LimeWire was replaced by uTorrent, and uTorrent is the current go-to for torrenting.

Perhaps, though, the anti-piracy measures we've seen are working. After all, Google has said that it gets over a million Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests per day. A recent PC Pro report notes that US BitTorrent traffic had dropped by 20 percent over the course of six months last year. What's more, it says that unique visitors to The Pirate Bay dropped dramatically between 2012 and 2013, from 5 million to 900,000 by last year's end.

This can likely be attributed to how easy it's become as of late to access content legally. It's no mistake that Netflix offered UK customers episodes of Breaking Bad's final season the day after they aired in the US. Or, that it's pushing to stream movies the same day they arrive in theaters. Same goes for Hulu Plus' entire business model of streaming shows the day after they air.

Sure, you're going to have a minority of folks who'll pirate anything and everything as their own means of anarchy, but for the most part, by offering an all-around better legal experience (not having to worry about downloading a virus; better video quality) most people aren't going to bother pirating in the first place. Much like it did with the music industry, piracy has forced Hollywood to examine why we were circumventing their protocols in the first place and adjust as such.


Cogent Accidentally Blocks Websites In Global Ham-Fisted Piracy Filtering Effort

Last week, reports began to emerge that internet users were unable to access The Pirate Bay and other BitTorrent-focused websites. Ultimately it was discovered that this was courtesy of transit provider Cogent, which was blackholing an undetermined number of IP addresses allegedly linked to copyright infringement. The IP addresses in question didn't belong to the websites -- but to popular CDN provider Cloudflare. All told, Cogent's blockade impacted around twenty different websites -- but the impact was global, with ISP users worldwide unable to access these IP addresses if they traveled the Cogent network.

Initially, Cogent wouldn't comment whatsoever on why this was occurring, but later confirmed to Ars Technica that the company had received a Spanish court order (it's not clear if it's the same 2015 order demanding Cogent block access to music streaming website Cogent was vague about the order itself, but did confirm that The Pirate Bay was blocked -- despite it not being a target of the court order. Subsequent routing checks confirmed the impact was global across Cogent's footprint.

As we've seen time and time again, actual pirates with just a modicum of technical knowledge utilize a variety of tools (VPNs most specifically) to tap dance around such restrictions, making these filtering efforts ham-fisted "solutions" that cause more problems for the internet and end users than they traditionally solve. In talking to Ars, Cogent acknowledged the potential "collateral impact" that such orders and filters can cause, especially when applied globally at scale to multihosting transit operators like Cloudfare, where one IP address may be home to multiple, unrelated websites:

"Cogent went on to say that “as a general matter, courts may require Cogent, as an ISP, to take certain actions with respect to a third-party website, an IP address or block of IP addresses. If Cogent’s customer decides to commingle traffic from the website that is the target of the court order with the traffic of other websites, the other websites that point to the same block of IP addresses may be adversely affected. When a Cogent customer controls the affected IP addresses, Cogent does not have the ability to know ahead of time what other websites may be affected or to control the collateral impact on these other websites. When collateral effects occur, we do work with our customer to try and mitigate the effects on others websites."

While U.S. net neutrality rules do prohibit network providers from blocking specific websites, exceptions were carved into the rules governing copyright infringement. Cloudfare, which helps websites improve performance and fend off DDoS attacks, can manage its IP addresses in such a way to help Cogent comply with court orders more narrowly. But this becomes arguably untenable when dealing with multiple court orders, all dealing with different websites and ISPs at global scale. Take the kind of filtering collateral damage we've long seen, and apply it globally in disjointed chorus.

Cloudfare often pops up as an entertainment industry bogeyman simply because its services often obscure the real origin server from the end users. But Cloudfare's General Counsel Doug Kramer was quick to complain that these sorts of orders, especially if poorly crafted and targeting core transit networks, can have a broad impact on the general health of the internet:

"This is part of the danger you get into when you start to censor the Internet or you get orders to pull things down,” Kramer said. “It may not be so easy to limit access to a specific domain," or to make sure a block applies only in a certain country. Cogent, and not Cloudflare, is the company that had to implement the block, but Cloudflare is “trying to set up a technical system where Cogent can respond to the order that they’ve been given, but within the narrow scope of that and not have impacts that go beyond that," Kramer said."

Kramer also pointed out that it might be important to understand how the internet worksbefore you set about chopping giant holes in it via court order:

"It’s important for courts to understand how Internet systems work so they can write orders that don’t end up having unintended consequences,” Kramer stresses. "As a company, Cloudflare believes strongly in an open, free, and secure Internet. And it is also our policy to fully comply with legitimate court process," Cloudflare’s General Counsel says. "This can be challenging at times, especially when courts target backbone providers and don’t understand fully how they work. Cloudflare takes steps to make sure those court orders don’t lead to unintended impacts."

Take the non-transparent, ham-fisted, and ultimately futile filtering efforts we've come to know and love, and apply them at global scale, with little to no real concern about the obvious unintended impact on the health of the internet itself. What could possibly go wrong?


3.1 Fundamentals of algorithms

3.2 Programming

3.3 Fundamentals of data representation

3.4 Computer systems

3.5 Fundamentals of computer networks

3.6 Fundamentals of cyber security

3.7 Ethical, legal and environmental impacts of digital technology on wider society, including issues of privacy

3.8 Aspects of software development

Glossary and other links

Glossary of computing terms.

AQA 8520: The 2016 syllabus

General content


Ethical impacts

Ethical Problems in Computing 1

Ethical Problems in Computing 2

Ethical Problems in Computing 3

Ethics versus morals

Ethical issues

Ethical cases

Legal impacts

The 8 principles of the Data Protection Act

Police misuse of Ripa powers to spy on journalists is systemic, MPs told

BBC and Royal Mail 'using Ripa terror powers to spy on public'

RIPA: Passwords

The Grim RIPA

Five Welsh councils used undercover surveillance on staff

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 – an overview

How Protection of Freedoms Bill will work

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations

Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

 A Short Guide to the Freedom of Information Act

Plain English Guide to Freedom of Information

Freedom of Information - a summary

Computer Misuse Act

Computer Misuse Act prosecution numbers falling

Computer Misuse Act 1990 cases

A brief history of Copyright.

Equality Act 2010

Equality act 2010: What do I Need to know?

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003: Threat or Menace?

Communications Act 2003

Digital Economy Act

A Guide to the Digital Economy Act 5 – Summary

Malicious Communications Offences

What is Sending Malicious Communications?

The UK’s 15 most infamous data breaches

Forrester Research Data Privacy Heat Map, 2015

India: Data Protection Laws In India: The Road Ahead

Data protection in India

Data Protection Laws Of The World (interactive)

Data Protection Laws Of The World (pdf)

ICLG comparisson tool

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 And Internet Connections Records

Data protection not just about personal data and compliance

Jargon buster guide to GDPR

Does Facebook own my pictures?

Pirate bay

Envirormental impacts

Environment issues

Environmental impacts

Useful links for Green IT

What is Green IT?

What Is Green IT, and Why Should You Care?

Green IT: Changing IT without it costing the earth.

Whatever happened to Green IT?

Pictures: India's Poor Risk Health to Mine Electronic "E-Waste"

India: The Rising Tide of E-Waste

BCS commentary on Greening Government ICT

Privacy issues