Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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.

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