US Advocacy Organizations Sue Government to Make ACTA Public

Negotiations have been speeding along with ACTA and public advocacy organizations are losing their patience over how long it’s taking for ACTA to finally be made public.

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

There’s no shortage of criticism for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), but one of the biggest criticism is that it’s been kept out of the eyes of the public. While the amount of secrecy has been a concern for a large number of people, now the concern has moved from vocal opposition to legal opposition.

The press release contains the following:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge have filed suit against the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), demanding information about a secret intellectual property enforcement treaty that the government has put on a fast track to completion.

“ACTA raises serious concerns for citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights,” said EFF International Policy Director Gwen Hinze. “This treaty could potentially change the way your computer is searched at the border or spark new invasive monitoring from your ISP. People need to see the full text of ACTA now, so that they can evaluate its impact on their lives and express that opinion to their political leaders. Instead, the USTR is keeping us in the dark while talks go on behind closed doors.”

Because of the questions raised by ACTA, EFF and Public Knowledge filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in June for records on the treaty and the negotiations surrounding the deal. EFF and Public Knowledge later clarified the scope of their request in July in response to concerns raised by the USTR. But the USTR still failed to provide any relevant documents.

“The lack of transparency in this process is incredibly alarming,” said Public Knowledge Staff Attorney Sherwin Siy. “Whatever form ACTA eventually takes, we can be sure it will be used to justify further international agreements and laws. The agreement text needs to be made public to ensure that it doesn’t encroach upon the rights of users, consumers, and citizens to access knowledge, information, and content.”

A copy of the legal documents have also been posted (PDF) Here’s a few samples rrom the legal documents:

16. On June 23, 2008, after receiving no written acknowledgement of plaintiffs’ FOIA request, counsel for plaintiffs spoke by telephone with USTR employees David Apol and Elizabeth Glacer. Mr. Apol and Ms. Glacer asked plaintiffs’ counsel to consider the possibility of narrowing the scope of plaintiffs’ FOIA request.

On August 22, 2008, plaintiffs’ counsel attempted to reach USTR’s employee, Mr. Apol, by telephone, but counsel’s call was directed to Mr. Apol’s voicemail system. Plaintiffs’ counsel left a voicemail message for Mr. Apol referencing plaintiffs’ FOIA request of June 11, 2008, and plaintiffs’ follow-up letter of July 24, 2008. Plaintiffs’ counsel requested information on the status of plaintiffs’ FOIA request.

22. To date, plaintiffs have received no communications from defendant USTR
concerning their FOIA request and request for expedited processing.

Defendant USTR’s failure to grant plaintiffs’ request for expedited processing violates the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(E).

In short, there was a FOIA request back in June, but nothing really materialized other than a request to narrow the scope of what was being asked.

While it is taking this long to produce much sought after content related to ACTA, it’s not exactly stopping the negotiations that have been ongoing and rumored to have been pushed through at a rapid pace.

It was only a few days ago that over 100 public interest organizations called for ACTA to be made public.

Officially, it’s not known what is being negotiated for ACTA, but with an ever present interest to find out what is really on it, so to is the pressure to make ACTA public. All this leads one to wonder, if ACTA isn’t all that bad, why has there been such an effort to keep the negotiations so quiet in the first place? The leaks certainly say how it would criminalize file-sharing among other things.

Further reading:

EFF – New US Copyright Enforcement Proposal and ACTA Could be a Catastrophe

Another Critical ACTA Leak Surfaces

US Proposes ‘Pirate Bay Killer’ Trade Agreement

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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