Proposed Treaty Turns Internet Into a Virtual Police State

Leaked documents are one of the banes of modern western politics. They reveal exercises and actions being proposed that are generally objectionable to the public. Such a leak occurred with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which seeks to turn the internet into a virtual police state.

Again, it’s one of the few bastions of anti-corruption, Wikileaks, that has spilled the beans on this unsavory topic. Yesterday the site revealed a document proposing a treaty that will significantly limit the privacy and rights of Internet users, to the benefit of multimillion dollar companies.

“ACTA” is basically an attempt to criminalize the Internet, thus allowing a virtual police state to occur by the selective prosecuting of crimes. In short, it’s an international treaty, or hopes to be, that will greatly increase already draconian copyright measures, in a poor attempt to appease the copyright and patent industries.

The proposal is based on the assumption that ‘intellectual property rights’ (a term used nine times on the first page of the proposal, and 24 times over the entire 3 ½ page document) trump personal privacy, data protection, probable cause, and lots of other important principles in western democracies.

The measure which has received wider publicity is the so-called ‘Pirate Bay killer’. At the end of page two, there is a list of things that should be included in a signee’s legal framework, and in the section about criminal sanctions it states “significant willful infringements without motivation for financial gain to such an extent as to prejudicially affect the copyright holder (e.g., Internet piracy)”. Think non-profit, personal use file-sharing.

Of course, this could go two ways, as the MPAA, for instance, has been guilty of ‘Internet piracy’ in the past, with it’s university toolkit.

Worst of all though, are the following two points speaking of “establishment and imposition of deterrent-level penalties” and “ex-officio authority to take action against infringers”. It is argued that the current level of penalties aren’t harsh enough (“people are still doing it, so they’re no deterrent”), so there should be room for harsher punishments. Combine this with the ability to prosecute without a rights holder complaint, which means that people could be liable for millions, or imprisoned (they are talking about CRIMINAL enforcement) for sharing Steal this Film, or Paulo Coelho’s books. So, these people actively want you to share would have no say in any such prosecution.

There are some other pure gems proposed, such as “ex officio authority for customs authorities to suspend import, export and trans-shipment of suspected IPR infringing goods”. Given that copyright law is so complex and convoluted, and that judges make mistakes in the cases they hear, this is worrying.

Unsurprisingly, the US patent office is backed up beyond belief and dominated by patent trolls that wait until a successful business is established, before pouncing to clean up. This would mean the death for any new and innovative products, or art. If that wasn’t bad enough, there is a further provision for rights holders to prod customs officials into suspension. Thus, a company can make an allegation, forcing a competitors products to be held in limbo until sorted.

Protest has been swift. TorrentFreak occasional contributor Jamie King wrote on his own blog: “In the form that it currently appears to exist, ACTA would ratchet-up further the rights of Hollywood and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) at the expense of all of our civil liberties. It provisions to criminalize information use practices currently allowed under U.S., European, and international law are completely disproportionate to the ‘problems’ it claims to address.”

Andrew Norton, chairman of the American Pirate Party was much less restrained: “The very existence of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) , be it in policy or just planning, sends one definite message to people around the world; Corruption is rife in the interested countries. There can be no other reason for yet another ‘intellectual property’ (itself a misnomer) law aimed at protecting business interests and expanding government intrusion into the private affairs of it’s citizens, in the name of ‘protection’.”

Of course, the other area most affected by this would be whistle-blower sites like Wikileaks itself. The owner of any leaked document can claim copyright infringement on its publication, and have it pulled. In this, ACTA is a very effective censorship tool. For some reason, though, this aspect has not been widely reported, or even mentioned.

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