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18th Jan 2019

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EU privacy watchdog hammers secret anti-piracy talks

The European Union's data privacy watchdog has hammered the European Commission for engaging in secret international negotiations over the enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Peter Hustinx, on Monday (22 February) issued a formal opinion concluding that the EU executive was endangering EU data protection rules and even internet users' fundamental rights by engaging in talks with the US, Canada, Japan and other powers on a new multilateral agreement to combat counterfeiting and piracy - the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta).

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  • What is known about Acta mostly comes from leaks (Photo: Flickr)

"The EDPS regrets that he was not consulted by the European Commission on the content of an agreement that raises significant issues as regards individuals' fundamental rights, and in particular their right to privacy and data protection," Mr Hustinx' office said in a statement.

"He views with concern the fact that little information is publicly made available about current negotiations."

Leaks about the negotiations have been dripfed to the media by sources close to the talks. The latest one, the most recent negotiating text, was leaked to IDG News Service, a technology news outlet, on Friday.

In response to the new text, Mr Hustinx assessed there to be "a potential incompatibility between envisaged measures and data protection requirements," and raised fears that the Acta legal framework could result in "large scale monitoring of internet users" and the international imposition of 'three strikes' laws, such as that recently passed in France, which cuts off internet access of people accused of illegal downloading.

"Whereas intellectual property is important to society and must be protected, it should not be placed above individuals' fundamental rights to privacy and data protection," he said.

Mr Hustinx added that "less instrusive" means should be found to fight piracy and that the EU should implement "appropriate safeguards to all data transfers" between itself and other recipients outside the bloc.

He also wants the EU to proceed more openly with negotiations over Acta, suggesting a public consultation.

Although MEPs have requested access to the documents, the commission has failed to do so because it would require the prior approval of all nine other partners to the talks: the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

The EDPS opinion comes just as the UK government announced it is to back away from three strikes-style legislation, first proposed last year.

London said in a statement on Monday that: "We will not terminate the accounts of infringers - it is very hard to see how this could be deemed proportionate except in the most extreme and therefore probably criminal cases."

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