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Civil rights groups urge Acta transparency

A top-secret international copyright treaty should be made transparent, and its disconnection and content filtering provisions should be rejected, according to an open letter sent to the European Parliament and EU trade negotiators by civil liberties and consumer rights groups.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

A top-secret international copyright treaty should be made transparent, and its disconnection and content filtering provisions should be rejected, according to an open letter sent to the European Parliament and EU trade negotiators by civil liberties and consumer rights groups.

In the letter, released on Thursday, signatories including the Open Rights Group and the Free Software Foundation point out that the EU Parliament has been denied access to the proposals that form the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), but corporations such as Microsoft, Google and News Corp have been allowed to see what's going on.

Acta is currently being negotiated between the EU, the United States, Japan, Australia and many other countries. The drafting and negotiations that surround the treaty date back to Lord Mandelson's tenure as EU trade commissioner. Not much is known of the detail in Acta, but leaked documents suggest the treaty would institute a 'three-strikes' policy around the world, which would see many people disconnected from the internet for unlawful file-sharing.

Other technical measures may also be imposed in the fight against copyright infringement. A week ago, the European ISP Association (EuroISPA) launched its own attack against Acta, arguing that its provisions would "create a serious danger of undermining and restricting the open innovative space that lies at the very heart of the internet's success".

Here is the text of the open letter, in full:

ACTA: A Global Threat to Freedoms open letter

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) is a broad intergovernmental agreement under negotiation ranging from the key social issue of access to medicine to criminal Internet regulation. We fear it could seriously hinder European innovation in the digital single market while undermining fundamental rights and democracy at large.

The negotiation process itself raises important questions of transparency and due democratic process, given that the content of the draft agreement has been kept secret for more than 18 months, although some details about the proposals recently leaked to the public. More worrying still, while the European Parliament has been denied access to the documents, US industry has been granted access to them, albeit only after signing non-disclosure agreements.

A recent analysis by the European Commission of the Acta Internet chapter proves that the topics under discussion go far beyond the current body of EU law. Most importantly, the Commission's analysis confirms that 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. These are very much at risk, since the current draft pushes for the implementation of three-strikes schemes and content filtering policies by seeking to impose civil and criminal liability on technical intermediaries such as internet service providers. The text would also radically erode the exercise of interoperability that is essential for both consumer rights and competitiveness.

Consequently, we urge the Parliament to call on European negotiators to establish transparency in the negotiation process and publish the draft agreement, and not to accept any proposal which would undermine citizens' rights and freedoms. Furthermore, we urge the Parliament to make an unequivocal statement to the Commission and Council that any agreement which does not respect these core principles would force the Parliament to reject the entire text.

Signatories:

AK DATEN E.V. (Germany) April (France) ASIC (France) Asociaci

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