ACTA debates in Europe
This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Europa diskutiert ACTA
Several debates on ACTA are going around in several European countries these days. We would present in this article two events where EDRi participated in the past week in Brussles and Helsinki.
A Policy Forum on ACTA was organized in Brussels on 6 March 2012 by the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in cooperation with IBBT-SMIT. The debate was led by Mr Harri Kalimo, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for European Studies.
Mr Benoît Lory, Policy Officer at the European Commission DG Trade opened the conference stating that ACTA is an enforcement law conceived as a means of defense of livelihood, it's not a substantive law: it will not really change EU legislation nor criminalize new infringements. Along the lines of De Gucht's speech of last week, he underlined the necessity of an informed and fact based debate. Then, in response to the waves of protest by citizens who see ACTA as promoting Internet censorship and monitoring and after many attacks on computer systems, Mr. Lory listed what ACTA, in his opinion, "does not": it doesn't contain any provision allowing to close Internet accounts, it doesn't provide inspections of files of end users' laptops, since it contains a de minimis provision; moreover it doesn't settle any penalty damages, rather it covers only the prejudices.
Mr Burak Özgen, Senior Legal Advisor at GESAC - European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers came in saying, first of all, that GESAC wasn't involved in preparing ACTA: it hadn't been consulted by the Commission nor had it suggested what to include in the agreement. Speaking for the interest groups that GESAC represents, he alleged that he prefers to see what the Court decides, in compliance with treaties; nevertheless GESAC supported the principles embodied in ACTA, since the agreement provides a better protection of copyright, without being in contrast with other fundamental rights as freedom of speech, privacy etc. Mr. Özgen reminded us that, on the other hand, without such an agreement we would assist to a reduction of the incentives to access the market, because authors, composers and artists in general need to be payed for their creations, whereas those large-scale infringements of IPRs threaten the competitiveness of our economy. The only way, since at the source, according to GESEC, is that ISPs have a role to play: this role depends on legal systems (i.e. blocking system in Denmark works fine).
Then the floor went to Joe McNamee (EDRi), who started by enumerating all the misleading statements from the European Commission on this issue wondering whether the Commission doesn't know or doesn't care to know about: transparence, criminalization of new infringements and the general assertion that there is nothing to worry about in the digital chapter of ACTA. Notably he focused on the "self-regulation" initiative organized by the European Commission involving European Internet Service Providers and the music and film industries, which substantially consisted in presenting to the ISP the choice either to voluntarily introduce filtering, blocking and end-user notification measures in order to police, monitor and punish end-users or there would be a review of the IPR Enforcement Directive of 2004. The Commission has spent two years pushing ISPs to take these voluntary punitive measures, with detrimental consequences for privacy and freedom of communication rights of end users (see the Scarlet/Sabam and Scarlet/Netlog case). He concluded stating that cooperative enforcement means unpredictable enforcement based on business priorities and not the rule of law: it means privatizing and exporting online law enforcement (see Wikileaks case). Substantive law will not change, but whose law? Who applies the law?
Last but not least, Mr Carl Schlyter, Member of the European Parliament, pointed out that the Parliament had not been transparently informed and was victim of an unbalanced approach to negotiations. Indeed it was aware only about a few meetings because most of them were secret. Basically ACTA has been introduced by the back door: it's the result of bilateral agreements between Countries and it's not at all the product of a democratic process. What's more the agreement is incompatible with EU law, maybe this can't be noticed prima facie but substantially it is. Mr. Schlyter remarked the contradiction into which the EU Commission's representative fell, as he said that "ACTA doesn't change anything, but we need it".... as a matter of fact why do we need it, if it doesn't change anything? The truth is that ACTA threatens Net Neutrality putting responsibility (and unwarranted power) upon internet providers, limits our choice as consumer and limits creativity. Furthermore it could give rise to troubles for data protection.
A Q&A time and a debate session followed the lectures, during which many concerns regarding ACTA came to light. There were several exchanges of opinions about the Commission project on voluntary measures and the fact that consumer/citizens' organisations refused to participate because ACTA was too biased.
In Helsinki, Finland, another open debate on ACTA was organized on 10 March 2012 by the Socialist and Democrat Group of the EU Parliament. The panel that debated the treaty included politicians, lobbyists and a civil servant who had been part of the team preparing and pushing ACTA forward in the Finnish parliament. The attendance took both the organizers and the panellists by surprise. It was obvious that hiding and obfuscating the treaty content had done little to dampen public interest in it.
In the panel, the secretary of the Social Democratic Party (which is currently in the government) and the former head of the national broadcasting company Mikael Jungner surprised everybody by coming out strongly against ACTA and various other unfair intellectual property and copyright measures. Also claims by the civil servant that there had been no hiding or restricting information on ACTA were strongly rebuked, first by a written statement from the former member of the Finnish Parliament Jyrki Kasvi and then from the audience by the vice chairman of EDRi-member Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFi) Ville Oksanen, who pointed out that when called to give an expert opinion on the treaty, none of the experts summoned to the hearings were actually allowed to see the treaty they were supposed to advise the parliament on.
It was all about as heated as debates in Finland can get and the pro-ACTA side could not really put up a fight. Although Finland is a signatory to the treaty, the Finnish government has decided to postpone the implementation of ACTA until the European Court of Justice has given its verdict on it. Maybe this is why the pro-ACTA side of the debate is now keeping such a low profile.
ACTA policy forum in Brussels (6.03.2012)
Public word (radio program): Alea ACTA est with Tommi Karttaavi from ISOC
Finland, Leena Romppainen from EFFi and Ilari Kuittinen from Housemarque
game company (only in Finnish, 14.03.2012)
Morning TV: Debate on ACTA heating up with Ville Oksanen from EFFi and
Mary-Ann Nojonen from Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (only in Finnish, 13.03.2012)
(Contribution by Elena Cantello - EDRi intern and Ville Vuorela - EDRi- member EFFi - Finland)