Internet activists who are celebrating the apparent defeat of the SOPA and PIPA bills have found their party already interrupted by the appearance, or rather, re-appearance of a piece of legislation that could have an even more significant effect: ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Whereas SOPA and PIPA were merely proposed US laws, ACTA is an international treaty, so its scope is much wider. It will become law for all signatory states and override any contrary provisions in US codes.
On January 26, the European Union and 22 member states formally signed ACTA, and apparently it now goes before the European Parliament. Last, October, ACTA was signed by 10 nations, including the US which helped sponsor it. However, though the President signed it as an executive agreement, constitutionally the treaty must still be ratified by the US Senate. Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Cyprus, and Slovakia are some of the most important nations that have still not signed on.
There is a huge amount of suspicion across the Internet surrounding the treaty because it was negotiated in secrecy by industry and government trade representatives of some of the richest countries without any input from anyone else. In fact, time after time, parliaments and interest groups around the world were told they could not see it while it was being worked on.
For a long time the only information about the provisions of the proposed treaty came through diplomatic cables posted by Wikileaks. These documents proved that the US negotiators orchestrated the lack of transparency because they realized how unpopular the treaty would be.
While some of the more severe provisions, such as the infamous “three strikes you’re out” rule, have been eased, ACTA is criticized as allowing judicial decisions by corporations and pressuring ISPs to monitor content, which it is feared could lead to mass surveillance of users whether or not they are suspected of wrongdoing.
The manner in which it was negotiated was so offensive that the day after the European signing, the man who reviewed the treaty for the EU submitted his report and resigned in disgust. Kader Arif wrote this:
“I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement… That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.”
It is to be hoped that more diplomats, politicians, and bureaucrats show the same sort of courage and honesty. For ACTA may just be the beginning: there’s another treaty in the works, TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls “far more restrictive” and will cause signatories to rewrite their own laws on intellectual property in order to comply.
Obviously, the fight for the Internet’s future will be long and costly and take place on many fronts. Already it seems to have exhausted the supply of acronyms. Unfortunately, however, there still seem to be no shortage of industry lobbyists with lots of cash. 😉