Europe's ISP industry body has attacked a global copyright agreement, currently being negotiated in secret, that could lead to the disconnection of internet users who are accused of persistent copyright infringement.
The European ISP Association (EuroISPA) said in a statement on Monday that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) threatened the openness of the internet and would not, in any case, be effective in fighting copyright infringement. The organisation also criticised the fact that citizens' representatives are not involved in the negotiations.
Acta is currently being negotiated between trade representatives from the EU, the US, Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia and other countries.
EuroISPA president Malcolm Hutty commented in the statement that "such heavy-handed measures [as disconnection] would create a serious danger of undermining and restricting the open innovative space that lies at the very heart of the internet's success. This agreement would have a negative impact on internet users without having an appreciable impact on fighting illicit use of copyrighted material".
In its latest summary of topics being discussed within the Acta negotiations, the EU defended the secrecy of the talks, saying it was "accepted practice during trade negotiations among sovereign states to not share negotiating texts with the public at large, particularly at earlier stages of the negotiation".
In its statement, EuroISPA said it was "concerned that the attempt to implement such measures through a trade agreement, rather than a conventional legislative process, will not allow the various stakeholders, such as European citizens' representatives, to enter the debate".
EuroISPA also noted a recent leak that suggested the copyright-enforcement measures being considered are, in the ISP association's words, "severe and wide-ranging". The leak was of a document entitled European Union's comments to the US proposal: Special requirements related to the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the digital environment, posted to German site Die Linke.
The US proposal for the measures to be contained in Acta has not been made public, so this leaked EU commentary is the only publicly available indication of its contents.
The leaked document refers to "termination of subscriptions and accounts" and notes that "the US proposal provides for both civil and criminal protection against copyright infringement", which goes beyond sanctions detailed in existing treaties.
Andrea D'Incecco, EuroISPA's public affairs chief, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the document described a "repressive system" that would replace legislative debate with contractual arrangements between private parties.
"This is about fundamental rights to access the internet, not just contractual clauses," D'Incecco said. "Only a judge should be allowed to pronounce on the limitation of such fundamental rights."
Following the leak of the EU's comments, Canadian internet law expert Michael Geist said the leak "reinforces the need for all governments to come clean".
"Releasing both the Acta text and government analysis of the treaty should be a condition of any further participation in the talks," Geist said on his blog.