ENDitorial: What the conquistadores can teach us about ACTA

By EDRi · December 16, 2009

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [ENDitorial: Was uns Konquistadoren über ACTA lehren| http://www.unwatched.org/node/1634]

When the conquistadores arrived in the Americas, historians tell us that the
viruses that they carried caused devastation among the indigenous
populations. For the European invaders, who had been subject to the viruses
for longer, the illnesses, while still sometimes deadly, were less dangerous
than for populations that had not yet been exposed to them. With ACTA as the
future EU and US template for free trade agreements with countries around
the globe, is this the virus that risks killing free speech, democracy,
privacy and access to knowledge even more readily in developing countries
than in the countries where it was conceived?

Within the EU, a certain amount of resistance has been developed over the
years to excessive, destructive and anti-democratic attempts to strangle
fundamental principles of civil and human rights. For example, France’s
original “HADOPI” proposal stumbled over the nation’s constitution when it
attempted to overturn centuries of legal tradition by undermining the basic
principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Similarly, the European
Parliament, faced with the threats appearing in France, the UK and
elsewhere, defended the rights of citizens by squeezing every legally
possible guarantee out of the famous “amendment 138” in the telecoms

The UK, unfortunately, is still in a critical condition as its government
feverishly tries to destroy the concept of a free and open Internet with its
“Digital Britain” proposals. It remains to be seen whether that country’s
democratic safeguards, such as its unwritten constitution and its Human
Rights Act will be enough to protect its citizens. Maybe it will be an
imaginative web 2.0 campaign by an opposition party in the upcoming national
elections that will create a flashmob of the polling stations to disconnect
politicians from office if they support narrow business interests ahead of
their voters’ rights.

All of these protections are not available in many of the countries that the
EU and US would plan to reach free trade agreements with in the future –
agreements that will be based on ACTA. Measures like intermediary liability
take on a vastly different meaning in the absence of robust legal defences
of civil rights. What happens when Internet access providers are made liable
for illicit online content, when they are given an incentive to carry out
surveillance on their consumers in the absence of human rights law, in the
absence of privacy legislation, in the absence of a democratically-elected
government or in the absence of competition?

The EU and US will not wish to tie their own hands by demanding strict human
rights or privacy protections when imposing ACTA measures on other
countries. In any event, even if they wanted to, they could not replicate
Europe’s experience of 50 years of human rights legislation. Once Internet
access providers have paid for the technology to filter and control their
consumers’ access, the next logical step will be to monetise this control
through a non-neutral Internet – one which governments will also be tempted
to exploit in the same way as broadcast and print media are frequently
exploited to undermine democracy in many countries today.

Only months after entering into force, what will be left of the Lisbon
Treaty’s goal of developing and consolidating “democracy and the rule of
law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” if ACTA becomes
the vehicle for undermining civil liberties across the globe?

Digital Britain

Telecoms package overview

EDRi-gram: ENDitorial: Mobilizing to Stop ACTA (18.11.2009)

(contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)