Hey! Remember our nation's 24-hour nightmare last month when we were forced to live a whole day without easy access to Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and other popular websites that went dark for 24 hours to protest anti-piracy legislation?
In the end, U.S. lawmakers agreed to withdraw the SOPA and PIPA bills, legislation that free speech advocates and tech companies said would crush Internet freedom and inspire frivolous lawsuits. Well, don't exhale just yet. There's still the Anti-Counterfeiting Trademark Agreement (ACTA) in Europe floating around, and on Feb. 11, Access, a "new global movement for digital freedom," wants to mobilize people all over the world to protest what the group and others see as a threat to free speech, human rights, innovation and trade.
What exactly is ACTA? Well, that's a huge part of the problem. Signed by the EU and 22 of its 27 member states on Jan. 27, the exact details of this act are known only to those involved.
Here's what the Electronic Frontier Foundation has to say about ACTA:
You wouldn’t know it from the name, but the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a plurilateral agreement designed to broaden and extend existing intellectual property (IP) enforcement laws to the Internet. While it was only negotiated between a few countries, it has global consequences.
First because it will create new rules for the Internet, and second, because its standards will be applied to other countries through the U.S.’s annual Special 301 process. Negotiated in secret, ACTA bypassed checks and balances of existing international IP norm-setting bodies, without any meaningful input from national parliaments, policymakers, or their citizens.
Worse still, the agreement creates a new global institution, an "ACTA Committee" to oversee its implementation and interpretation that will be made up of unelected members with no legal obligation to be transparent in their proceedings. Both in substance and in process, ACTA embodies an outdated top-down, arbitrary approach to government that is out of step with modern notions of participatory democracy.
Prefer bullet points? Here's how Access breaks it down:
ACTA lacks democratic credibility because it was negotiated in secret, undermining democratic principles of transparency and multistakeholderism; ACTA poses a threat to free speech and access to culture by, among other issues, encouraging private companies to police users of the Internet; ACTA threatens privacy, as ISPs will be obliged to carry out surveillance on all users; ACTA could have a chilling effect on innovation by disincentivizing startups and encouraging anti-competitive behavior; ACTA would harm trade by giving the U.S. a structural competitive advantage over other countries in addition to creating barriers for international trade; ACTA lacks legal clarity with vaguely drafted language, and is clearly not aligned with current international and European legal standards.
Currently, Access protests on Feb. 11 are scheduled in Europe only. As the EFF points out however, if you live in the U.S., "you can demonstrate your opposition ... by signing this petition on the whitehouse.gov website, demanding the Administration submit ACTA to the Senate for approval."
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