By Samantha Lowell
SOPA and PIPA could effectively destroy the Internet as it exists today, along with entire economies built on it around the world.

SOPA and PIPA could effectively destroy the Internet as it exists today, along with entire economies built on it. ACTA is even worse, and could enable the creation of police states around the world.

Internet activists and civil rights groups worldwide are alarmed at the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), one of the harshest crackdowns on internet piracy, which was signed by 22 nations in 2011 and awaits ratification by the European Union Parliament. Negotiated and signed in secret, ACTA was signed on October 1 2011 by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. On January 29, 2012, the European Union and 22 of its member states signed as well, bringing the total number of signatories to 31. If ACTA is ratified by six member states, the convention will become law; however, lack of ratification by the EU would effectively kill the measure.

If ratified, ACTA would criminalize sharing of copyrighted material on an unprecedented scale, and even certain signatories have begun to criticize several provisions of the treaty as being excessively broad in their scope and extreme in enforcement provisions. ACTA, as written, would criminalize such acts as sharing a newspaper article or uploading a video of a party where copyrighted music is played. Violators of any breach would be subject to criminal charges. The ACTA committee would have carte blanche to change its own rules and sanctions with no legal oversight.

Legal scholars and privacy rights advocates object that ACTA would not only allow legal authorities to monitor personal online communications in secrecy and requiring ISPs to closely monitor suspected trademark violators, without court recourse, but that those falsely or erroneously accused would be without legal recourse.

The overly broad language of violation and enforcement would also result in criminalization of generic drugs as pirated material, an undoubted boon to pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer. However, critics and protests are already spreading across the EU and support among some signatories is beginning to waver. EU representatives have worked closely with corporate lobbyists-(principally the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) -to craft new rules and an enforcement organization described variously as “draconian” and  “dangerously powerful”.  

As with SOPA and PIPA, ACTA has been heavily lobbied by media giants such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). In a statement which has alarmed civil libertarians, an MPAA representative, in a 2010 private ACTA meeting in Mexico, said to negotiators, “Bring in a censoring firewall to block piracy and you can use it to shut off sites that embarrass your government, like Wikileaks.”  WikiLeaks is the website that first leaked information about ACTA to the public in 2008.

ACTA is being criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Free Knowledge Institute (FKI), the Free Software Foundation (FSF), Consumers International and not only for its overly broad language and harsh provisions, but also for its lack of transparency during the deliberation process and as a threat to privacy and that the measure had been “sneaked in” without legal or public review. Others have called it a way to backdoor the immensely unpopular SOPA in worldwide.

ACTA was lobbied heavily during the Bush and Obama administrations by the MPAA and other media giants. Though the White House has refused to release the full text of the deliberations, stating such disclosure would be contrary to the interests of national security, ACTA continues to draw fire nationwide. The White House has defended both the lack of transparency of the ACTA deliberations and its signing without Congressional approval , asserting ACTA is not a treaty, and therefore requires no Congressional oversight, a move which has drawn protests across party lines in and out of Congress and has shocked the administration’s supporters.

In an open letter, The EFF and co signatories wrote in a recent protest letter to the EU Parliament, “The current draft of ACTA would profoundly restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of European citizens, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy.”

Though the Act has been signed, it has yet to be ratified, and some signatories are having serious second thoughts. In the face of massive public protests, Helena Drnovek Zorko, who signed the measure on behalf of Slovenia, has publicly apologized for signing.

Zorko stated, “I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention. Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children.”

While protests mount across Europe, ACTA faces questions on the eve of its ratification in the EU Parliament. On February 4, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that he had suspended the domestic ratification process for ACTA, citing the need for extensive study before the agreement can be signed into law and citing a lack of research on the subject at present. Opposition is beginning to mount elsewhere: In a recent statement, the government of Bulgaria has stated it will not unilaterally sign ACTA and several African governments has expressed concern about language that would criminalize generic drugs, citing a need for inexpensive medication to combat Africa’s AIDS epidemic. Kader Arif, the French Member of the European Parliament (MEP) has resigned his position in charge of negotiating ACTA, saying it “goes too far” by potentially cutting access to lifesaving generic drugs and restricting internet freedom.
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Update

On the eve of protests, Germany backs away from ACTA.  The United States has already signed it. Germany had promised to sign the horrific legislation, but now is waiting to see what the rest of the European Union does with it.  Not exactly the strongest statement they could have made, but it’s a glimmer of hope.  Since Germany is one of the bigger economies in the EU, what they say and do about it is going to have a strong effect on what the other smaller countries think about it.  The United States has already signed ACTA, with President Obama stating that the action was an “executive agreement” and would not require changes to United States law.  Since the agreement is directly related to trade, many believe that it should be considered as a trade treaty, and should go before the Senate for ratification.
Mr. Obama, really now.

Links

  • Avaaz.org – ACTA, the New Threat to the Internet
  • Electronic Freedom Foundation page on ACTA
  • Whitehouse.gov – petition to end ACTA and protect our right to privacy on the internet – you’ll need to create an account for yourself
  • Whitehouse.gov – petition to force submission of ACTA to the Senate for ratification as required of any international trade agreements – you’ll need to create an account for yourself
  • The actual text of ACTA in PDF format