Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tech Dirt Gets the Google Skinny on the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

The magazine Tech Dirt reviewed a talk that Google Public Policy sponsored on ACTA.

The talk is an example of a corporation that depends on the internet for revenue, attempting to edify itself on the issue. If you have an hour, you should definitely watch this if internet freedom interests you. It should be fair to preface that technical legal terms are widely used in this talk.

ACTA - A Political Internet Enemy?

There has been a buzz going around the internet, amongst blogs and comments, not to mention amongst independent journalists, of a possible free trade law called ACTA, dealing with the internet. ACTA stands for Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and appears to be being negotiated between just about every OECD country in the world seems to be in on it. Russia and China are missing from the list. There has been barely a peep about this trade agreement, but multiple leaked electronic files, as well as Congressional records indicate that it is a real trade agreement that is actually being negotiated on. Two, three years ago, it appeared though, that anybody involved wanted to simply deny the existence of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Maybe part of the reason was that it calls for border searches on suspicion of carrying pirated software on laptops and mp3 players, and compulsory ISP co-operation (by making it law) that customers who are simply suspected of downloading pirated material provide information on those customers WITHOUT A WARRANT.

As you can guess by now, ACTA is for the purpose of catching people who use freely downloaded software, music, video or multimedia, that may or may not have a copyright.

Multiple leakings of their agenda's have thrown this new threat to political freedom on the internet (after some victory on net neutrality) out in the open.

The stated objective may be to save companies money, but there can be no doubt that if an accord like this is put into effect, it can be easily subverted to deny freedom on the world wide web.

An authority on press freedom, that faces down the most tyrannical regimes on the planet on the matter of freedom of expression, Reporters Without Borders, has this headline for the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement:

Threat to Online Free Expression from Imminent International accord

ACTA's provision to "ban" people from the internet on a three strikes rule is a violation of human access to information. It does nothing to actually address the actual problem of piracy (which can be caused as simply by pirating syndicates as bribing a corporate media employee to leak a new movie), but rather gives governments across the developed world a handy tool with which to create a China like climate of fear on the internet.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation on the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

News of negotiations states that the parts on cross border searches of laptops and mp3 players may be dropped, but the ISP requirements to bend to non-Warrant has not appeared in any negotiation to tone down ACTA. The ISP`s represent a structural part of the internet without which users cannot access the web. If these very rule bound institutes can be bent to the government`s will, then ACTA will have succeeded in being an in built tool to repress political freedom on the internet.

The stated objective may be something else, but as we saw in the last twelve years of failure of democratic behaviour across various countries around the world, from the Russia (the ascendancy of Putinism) to Pakistan (General Musharraf's coup and eventual emergency), to the anti-Thaksin overthrow in Thailand, right up to the strange election with purged voters in the United States itself. We have witnessed a decade where democracy, freedom and peace continue to be assaulted first by armed right wing groups, soon followed by waves of government repression. One more tool in the arsenal of repression should not be added.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Public Policy Blog - bought to you by...Google?

Nobody would disagree that companies in the First World have too much power. But I have to admit it takes chutzpah to come out and publicly recommend that governments can use the policy that a corporation itself puts out, when the government is creating rules, regulations or public policy on the field of industry that the self-same corporation is involved in.

Which brings us to the Google Public Policy Blog. Since regulation of online space is still an evolving area, a relatively new part of the regulatory infrastructure, the expertise to deal with it may very well be locked up in private companies, and unable to advise or provide consultation to the government.
So Google probably feels its should pipe in with it's own two cents from the corporate search engine perspective. And if it steers public policy in a direction that aids the bottom line of the company itself, then well, what could be the harm in that?

Insinuation aside, one has to admit that Google having a public policy blog does refreshingly put reality right out in the World's face. That reality being that governments have to listen to what the corporate entities of the world want, not necessarily it's vaunted voters and politicians. It brings to the fore the reality that corporations have always been guiding public policy. What voters want is not the highest priority, and the voice of the corporate entity is an unfortunate guiding light on policy.

Google simply putting it out their, stating that these are this mega-corporations recommendations for policy is a statement of reality. People should take this opportunity and try to make their voice the one heard the loudest. Even if they do say people talk but money walks.

Postscript

Interestingly, Google has a Public Policy Blog for that other regulation producing entity, the European Union.

Post-Postscript

In other news, the Google public policy blog acknowledges the Pakistani professional class. I'm sure the acknowledgment from Google's representative got the Pakistani's on a minor high. Google's representative got in to meet a Minister. If anyone's educated to Western standards, they can become one in Pakistan as well, if they're willing to be deeply corrupt. The result is that ordinary people can't meet their ministers, but corporate representatives, especially those who travel from abroad can simply walk in.