Reporters Without Borders

Online freedoms threatened by another step towards treaty's adoption

Online freedoms threatened by another step towards treaty’s adoption

Published on Thursday 15 December 2011.
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The Council of the European Union is about to adopt the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The agreement will be formally signed by EU governments during a World Trade Organization meeting that is due to take place in Geneva from 15 to 17 December. It will then be up to the European Parliament to adopt or reject it.

Thirteen members of the Sakharov Network of winners of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought appeal today to MEPs to reject the agreement in order to protect freedom of expression and of information.

“In the name of copyright enforcement, the European Union and other signatories would be bound to put pressure on Internet actors, compelling them to monitor and police the network,” the Sakharov laureates warned. See the full text of their appeal below.

Reporters Without Borders (itself a winner of the Sakharov Prize in 2005) supports the Sakharov laureates’ statement. The organization, which defends freedom of information, repeatedly voiced its concerns about ACTA, calling on the negotiators “not to sacrifice online free speech and access to information for the sake of combating piracy and the counterfeiting of works protected by copyright”.

In particular, Reporters Without Borders condemns:

  • The requirement that signatory countries establish private policies for copyright enforcement online through cooperation mechanisms
  • The right accorded to the relevant authorities to ask Internet Service Providers to transmit personnal data identifying their clients
  • The requirement to criminally prosecute suppression of metadata (data identifying a file’s content and origins) and circumvention of Digital Rights Management (DRM).
  • The possibility for governments to define legal exceptions to DRM circumvention.

The last two points have the effect of banning censorship circumvention resources that are indispensible tools for ensuring the flow of news and information in countries such as Iran or China (see detailed article).

According to the advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, “by privatizing online censorship in the name of copyright, ACTA would have a dreadful impact on our freedoms online, but also on innovation and growth for Internet companies. The European Parliament is our last chance to reject ACTA.”

Statement by the Sakharov Laureates

Appeal to Members of the European Parliament

EU Parliament must protect freedom of expression and of information by rejecting ACTA

A free and open Internet is now essential for expression and communication, and for the sharing of knowledge and democratic participation.

At a time when many governments and private-sector actors seek increased control over this global network, any legislation hampering the free flow of information and knowledge should be treated with the outmost caution.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was negotiated in secrecy and is now being forced on elected representatives as a done deal to which they are asked to assent. This approach represents a dangerous bypassing of the democratic process.

The content of this agreement is no less worrying. In the name of copyright enforcement, the European Union and other signatories would be bound to put pressure on Internet actors, compelling them to monitor and police the network. The pressure will be reinforced by the threat of criminal sanctions on the vague grounds of abetting and aiding infringement.

Forcing companies into private-sector censorship of the Internet with no judicial oversight in order to protect mostly outdated economic models would be a disproportionate violation of freedom of expression, information and communication. Going down such a path is against the very principles on which the European Union was founded.

As Europe grapples with a major crisis of identity and values, the European Parliament has an historic responsibility. By rejecting ACTA, EU elected representatives would help preserve the infrastructure that is needed for the future of our societies and our democracy.

The signatories, winners of the Sakharov Prize and members of the Sakharov Network, call on all MEPs to take a stand and to refuse to adopt ACTA when they are asked to vote on it in the coming days.

Signatories:

Oslobodjenje (1993), Taslima Nasreen (1994), Wei Jingsheng (1996), Salima Ghezali (1997), Nurit Peled-Elhanan (2001), The Belarusian Association of Journalists (2004), Reporters sans frontières (2005), Damas de Blanco (2005), Hauwa Ibrahim (2005), Aliaksandr Milinkevich (2006), Salih Mahmoud Mohamed Osman (2007), Hu Jia (2008), Memorial (2009)

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