Reporters Without Borders

Threat to online free expression from imminent international accord

Threat to online free expression from imminent international accord

Published on Monday 25 January 2010.
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Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the threat to online free expression from measures to combat digital piracy and copyright violations in an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) that is currently being negotiated. The next three-day round of talks about the proposed agreement are due to begin tomorrow in Mexico.

A total of 39 countries including Australia, France, Mexico, Morocco and the United States, and the European Union, are participating in the negotiations, which government officials are conducting in secret without consulting NGOs or civil society groups. The European Parliament has not even had access to the negotiating documents.

It is extremely regrettable that democratic debate has been eliminated from talks that could have a major impact on such a fundamental freedom as free expression. Transparency in such matters is a requirement that is neither negotiable nor subject to commercial imperatives.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the members of the European Union and other governments to explain the following measures, which appear to have been included in the draft agreement and which would greatly endanger online freedom of expression:

  • Banning mechanisms for circumventing content filtering or blocking, which would prevent citizens in countries such as Iran or China from evading censorship;
  • Punishing people who download content illegally by cutting their Internet connections, thereby limiting their access to information, although it does nothing to prevent the actual piracy;
  • Automatic content filtering, which limits freedom of expression and is illegal if not approved by a judge.

Read and sign the open letter to the European Parliament that has been signed by Quadrature du Net, Reporters Without Borders, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumers International, ASIC and some 30 other NGOs:

ACTA: A Global Threat to Freedoms

Open letter

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a broad intergovernmental agreement under negotiation ranging from the key social issue of access to medicine[1] to criminal Internet regulation. We fear it could seriously hinder European innovation in the digital single market while undermining fundamental rights and democracy at large.

The negotiation process itself raises important questions of transparency and due democratic process, given that the content of the draft agreement has been kept secret for more than 18 months, although some details about the proposals recently leaked to the public. More worrying still, while the European Parliament has been denied access to the documents, US industry has been granted access to them, albeit only after signing non-disclosure agreements.

A recent analysis by the European Commission of the ACTA Internet chapter[2] proves that the topics under discussion go far beyond the current body of EU law. Most importantly, the Commission’s analysis confirms that the current draft of ACTA would profoundly restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of European citizens, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy. These are very much at risk, since the current draft pushes for the implementation of three-strikes schemes and content filtering policies by seeking to impose civil and criminal liability on technical intermediaries such as internet service providers. The text would also radically erode the exercise of interoperability that is essential for both consumer rights and competitiveness.

Consequently, we urge the Parliament to call on European negotiators to establish transparency in the negotiation process and publish the draft agreement, and not to accept any proposal which would undermine citizens’ rights and freedoms. Furthermore, we urge the Parliament to make an unequivocal statement to the Commission and Council that any agreement which does not respect these core principles would force the Parliament to reject the entire text. P.S.

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