Loss of Privacy

Keeping you informed on recent losses to privacy and civil rights worldwide.

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In the past few days, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania have joined other European countries in halting the controversial ACTA treaty. The Economist and the Financial times are now saying that ACTA is as good as dead.

Germany has announce that it is holding off on signing ACTA until the EU Parliament has decided on ACTA. Some believe it’s just a ploy by Germany to appease protesters and that, once the protests die down, they will sign it.

Latvia’s Economy Minister, Daniels Pavluts, has said he will stop ratification of ACTA.

Pavļuts is set to ask the Ombudsman as well as other concerned ministries to provide a detailed explanation and analysis of the ACTA and its potential impact on the Latvian legislative framework for intellectual property rights, copyright law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“Despite the fact that the ACTA agreement took several years to be developed, still a number of community groups have raised concern, reflecting the public distrust in the state power and its organs. Such an attitude towards the government has developed in the recent years, because of the lack of a genuine dialogue between the power and the society. Restoring this confidence is a new task for the government,” Pavluts says.

Lithuania’s Minister of Justice, Remigijus Simasius, has also condemned ACTA as unnecessary.

The essence of my comment was that certain provisions of ACTA are new to our legal system (more severe punishment, more control of internet providing services) and I do not see why those provisions are necessary.

I have also stated that our life is more and more dependent on R&D, new inventions, creativity. Existing IP protection system, however, is more about protecting the IP protection industry than a protection of inventors and authors. Current debate worldwide is a clear sign that we have to re-evaluate the existing IP rights system.

While some are saying that there will be no ACTA, there is still a chance that the European parliament will pass ACTA, forcing countries who don’t want the treaty to be bound by it. It all comes down to how the different countries interpret the Lisbon Treaty [pdf]and whether or not they think they need to follow it.

The European Union should also take note that most of the countries that are questioning ACTA are Eastern European countries who know how agreements such as ACTA can play out. They also don’t have very close ties to the United States, who are pushing hard for ACTA worldwide.

The protest map for today may be an indication of why so many politicians are finally taking a serious look at what ACTA is and what it can do.

Photo from Reuters.

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The Transpacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, is a new trade agreement being sought after by the United States with its trade partners in Asia. If signed, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru , the US, and Vietnam would cover goods and services and intellectual property between partner nations. Unlike ACTA, the first draft of TPP hasn’t been made yet, however, content owners in the United States are already attempting to dictate what should and should not be included in the agreement.

A paper prepared by the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP (reported to be drafted by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Motion Picture Association of America) and leaked on the Internet, indicates that rights holders are urging the USTR to include in TPP IP protections more extensive than those present in ACTA. Specifically, the paper suggests that the following issues be addressed in TPP:

Temporary copies: The US Business Coalition paper urges TPP countries to include a provision requiring protection for temporary copies. Temporary copies are copies made when you access webpages, or music, or any other content on the Internet. In addition, your computer makes transient copies, such a buffer copies, in the course of replaying such content. These copies have no value independent of the ultimate use they facilitate – your viewing of the movie or listening to the music. Treating them as worthy of copyright protection allows rights holders to claim additional rents where none are due.

This provision actually makes sense. There is no point in copyrighting this sort of information when it is only needed for a short time before it is deleted and of no further use. The fact that such a provision is even needed displays the fact that many companies on the internet are already thinking of implementing such usage of temporary files.

Besides provisions covering copyright length, statutory damages, and circumvention of digital locks (DMCA, WIPO, WPPT), there has been talk of forcing ISPs to act as copyright cops as well as punishing those who commit a single act of infringement the same as someone who commits multiple acts and who may be profiting off of said infringement.

Fortunately, some of the countries negotiating the TPP seem to be aware of concerns with IP provisions in trade agreements. An internal document of the New Zealand government, leaked on the Internet, indicates the government’s reticence to adopt an IP chapter similar to ACTA. The document observes:

“Analysis of the costs and benefits of IP protection shows that there is a tendency towards overprotection of IP in all our societies, particularly in the areas of copyright and patents. The analysis also shows that the optimal rate of protection differs between countries and that it can differ across time as countries move through different stages of economic development.”

“These developments are underpinned by an increasing pressure from rights holders to internationalise a larger array of issues and find international solutions to issues that have only had limited consideration at the national level. This is particularly true for the area of copyright, where rights holders have been seeking the adoption of more intrusive international rules with respect to a range of copyright issues at an early stage of norm development.”

The good news is tat the New Zealand government believes that existing treaties, such as the DMCA, are flawed and were implemented without enough information to formulate an ethical and fair treaty. The bad news is that, while New Zealand government thinks the enforcement of IP and copyright through DRM is bad, they believe it should be monetized instead.

New Zealand also believes that governments should re-evaluate their current treaties in order to bring them up to date with modern technologies while discontinuing the practice of passing any treaties in secret without any civilian oversight.

Many of the current laws and agreements are at least ten years old. Some go back a century or more. It it is vital that these laws be re-evaluated, rewritten, or simply inactivated so that new laws can be created to keep up with the technology that didn’t even exist when they were enacted.

While privacy activists prefer to have the section of TPP’s IP recommendations removed, if it is to be forced upon the citizens of Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru , the US, and Vietnam, then it is vital that the negotiations be publicly held, with input from the public. Without public input, then only those who are directly involved in IP (MPAA, RIAA, etc.) will be the ones dictating policies that affect millions who have no voice.

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Keynote address at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg on January 27, 2012 that discusses the role of digital activism in countering bills like SOPA and the ongoing copyfight over the use of WIPO, ACTA, and aggressive laws to promote restrictive copyright rules.

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Last week, Poland and Slovenia expressed regret over the signing of ACTA. Now the Czech Republic and Romania have expressed the same doubts. Czech Prime Minister, Petr Necas, has stated that the Czech Republic will suspend the ratification process of ACTA.

“By no means would the government admit a situation where civic freedoms and free access to information would be threatened,” Necas said.

That is why the government will analyse the issue and have it assessed by experts. “We really must look into the impact it would have in real life,” Necas said.

After learning that their country had signed ACTA, many citizens of the Czech republic took to the streets in protest . Also agreeing with the protesters are several Czech Euro ministers.

Romanian Prime Minister, Emil Boc, has publically stated that he doesn’t understand why Romania even signed ACTA. Emil Boc offered his resignation shortly after, however, the president is still asking questions.

PM Emil Boc said, on Saturday, that, for the moment, he did not hold any information on the circumstances in which Romania had adopted the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Realitatea.net informs. PSD President Victor Ponta is asking the government to publicly explain why it had signed ACTA on behalf of Romania without a prior public debate and notes that, when it goes to power, USL will suspend the enforcement of the Agreement until a dialogue with the civil society is fulfilled, he notes on his Facebook account.

This is what happens when treaties are proposed and signed in secret. Even those at the top levels of government have no idea what is happening in their countries or how such treaties will affect their citizens.

ACTA is still a very real problem and the countries involved need to take a serious look at what it is and whether they really want to be involved by informing themselves about what ACTA really is.

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Many countries that have signed ACTA are now rethinking their positions and apologizing for screwing up their countries with such legislation. Once everyone actually took the time to read and research what ACTA does, they discovered that they aren’t happy with what it entails at all.

One of the biggest regrets came from Poland this week when it suspended its ratification process for ACTA. Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister, said that there were insufficient consultations made before signing it.

Tusk’s backtracking could spell the end of ACTA for the entire European Union. If Poland or any other EU member state, or the European Parliament itself, fails to ratify the document, it becomes null and void across the union. As it stands, there are already five member countries that have not even signed ACTA.

Poland has seen the biggest protests against ACTA, with thousands demonstrating on the streets last week. Hackers believed to be associated with Anonymous attacked Tusk’s website, as well as the European Parliament site, after the signing.

Critics of ACTA say it has insufficient safeguards for online liberties, particularly in signing countries that do not already have strong principles of freedom of speech and expression. In addition, the agreement negotiations, which took place without the contributions of civic groups or elected representatives, have been widely described as undemocratic.

Although Slovenia also signed the agreement, their ambassador, Helena Drnovšek Zorko, has publicly apologized to her country for doing so, saying that it was a mistake.

I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention.

Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children.

The final version of ACTA is also very watered down from what it once was.

Here are some major improvements:

The provision that proposed to criminally punish ordinary users (think college kid downloading music) with fines, jail time, seizure of computers, etc., was significantly scaled back as the negotiation process moved on and finally eliminated in the final text.
The provision that required all ACTA countries to hold third parties, such as ISPs and consumer electronics manufacturers, liable for their customers’ infringement was eliminated. This provision, as drafted, was inconsistent with U.S. law and would have required changes to this complex and evolving policy space.

The provision that required countries to institute safe harbors for ISPs from their customer’s infringement was eliminated. While the idea of providing ISPs with a safe harbor is a good one and facilitates the development of platforms and services on the Internet, the way in which ACTA would have required these safe harbors was not good. It lacked safe guards for users that are contained in U.S. law. Further, it could have provided the excuse for measures such as three strikes and deep packet inspection.

The DRM provisions of ACTA were improved significantly. Earlier leaked drafts had called upon countries to prevent circumvention of DRM, treat them as both civil and criminal offenses, and consider them illegal even when there was no underlying attempt to infringe copyright. Furthermore, these drafts had not acknowledged that circumvention could be done for lawful purposes. The final text overcomes these deficiencies and gives countries flexibility in how they implement DRM provisions.

ACTA hasn’t been ratified in Europe yet, so there’s still time to protest it if you care anything at all about democracy and free speech. Protests are being called for on Saturday, 11 February 2012 across Europe.

If you’re still confused about ACTA, visit EFF’s page or this discussion on reddit.

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