Consumer Groups Want to Halt ACTA Negotiations

ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has concerned many consumer rights organizations for some time now. Given that it could easily affect criminal laws in many countries around the world, it’s not hard to see why there is demand for public disclosure and allow public debate in the matters. Still, to this day, ACTA is being negotiated behind closed doors by many countries around the world and now consumer groups want to, at least, have the negotiations disclosed to them.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

When it comes to the privacy and surveillance debates, which are in various stages in different countries right now, many say that for national security concerns, further surveillance measures should be taken in the law books. Many policy makers want to know every detail of day-to-day communications of millions of people including who you talk to, when, how, where, and, with a warrant, what the contents of those messages are. Unsurprisingly, consumer rights groups have a problem with that. Meanwhile, when it comes to the highly secretive negotiations happening with ACTA, many consumer rights organizations want a clear indication on how the new international standard is forming and the contents of the legislation and to have such things disclosed to the public. Ironically, policy makers seem to have a problem with that.

That hasn’t stopped several consumer rights organizations from issuing a resolution to halt the ACTA negotiations and getting a chance to look at ACTA themselves. That’s currently what has been reported by IP Watch:

The Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue on 18 June issued the resolution on the enforcement of copyright, trademarks, patents and other intellectual property rights. The TACD is a trade advisory body to the European Union and United States government, and brings together 80 member organisations from those regions, claiming a direct paid-up membership of some 20 million consumers.

The resolution calls for a halt to the plurilateral negotiation of an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) led by the United States, until the negotiating texts are made available to consumer groups and other conditions are met.

TACD wants future negotiations to be respectful of civil liberties such as the right to privacy and also demands the inclusion of developing countries in ACTA negotiations as the stated intention is to extend and apply the treaty to them. The resolution offers recommendations to ensure IP enforcement policies and practises address issues such as transparency, evidence and process, competitiveness, consumer protection, human rights, access to knowledge, and digital rights.

The resolution reflects discussions TACD had with representatives from the EU and the US government on 9 June, during the TACD 10th annual meeting in Brussels (IPW, Enforcement, 11 June 2009). But the resolution was released for the first time on 18 June and forms part of a larger effort by TACD to push back on the IP rights enforcement issues, according to consumer representatives.

This seems to be a brand new push to get ACTA out in the open. Last year, over 100 consumer rights organizations demanded public disclosure of ACTA.

Up to this point, even legal measures to obtain information about ACTA has been blocked or heavily filtered by governments around the world. In the United States, the EFF tried to get information regarding ACTA out into the public, but were hampered by “national security” concerns.

We here at ZeroPaid tried to get similar information in Canada throughout 2008 via Access to Information Act requests. All of our attempts returned with a borderline denial that ACTA even existed from DFAIT (Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada). One of our attempts returned with a four figure price tag, but on closer inspection, it returned with a typo in the request which said it was a request for “AFTA”, not “ACTA” (our copy was hand-written explicitly requesting “ACTA”) Still, we will continue our efforts this year as well and inform you if we get any different results this year.

It’s not clear what effect this will have on ACTA negotiations, but leaks from the negotiations have painted a startling picture about ACTA which included calls for seizing portable information devices at the border and copying the contents to search for possible pirated material (a provision that was later denied by officials saying that this was inaccurate) Then again, if ACTA is so innocent and something we shouldn’t be worried about, why is there so much secrecy in the first place?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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