Wednesday

31st Aug 2016

Czech Republic stops ratification of anti-counterfeit treaty

  • EU protests against Acta treaty on the rise (Photo: hdzimmermann)

The Czech Republic has stopped ratification of the controversial anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (Acta), becoming the second EU country to do so after Poland.

The decision came after Anonymous - a loose network of cyber activists campaigning against the so-called 'New World Order' - hacked into and released to media the private addresses and telephone numbers of senior Czech politicians.

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"We cannot accept under any circumstances, that civil liberties and free access to information are threatened in any way," Prime Minister Petr Necas said on Monday (6 February) on the ratification decision.

Last week, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also said there would have to be further discussion on the bill, which has prompted street protests in Warsaw. Opponents say the treaty threatens internet free speech, encourages intrusive surveillance and censorship.

Tusk spoke to and debated Acta with activists and bloggers on Monday but did not withdraw his signature from the treaty. Instead, he said Poland would suspend ratification for up to a year to further examine the bill.

Protests are heating up elsewhere in Europe. In Slovenia, the country’s ambassador to Japan, Helena Drnovsek Zorko, said she regrets having signed the treaty and urged people to demonstrate. Around 2,000 people took to the country’s capital against Acta on Saturday, reports the BBC.

The European Commission signed Acta in January along with 22 member states, the US, Australia and Canada. Five other member states - Cyprus, Estonia, The Netherlands, Germany and Slovakia - still plan to sign up pending technical matters. The international treaty also has to get European Parliament approval before it is adopted in the EU. The parliament has a single Yes or No vote to approve the text but cannot introduce amendments.

For its part, the European Commission says Acta does not restrict freedom of the internet and does not impact or affect existing EU laws. Instead, the commission argues that the bill protects jobs in a Europe that is losing €8 billion annually through counterfeit goods.

Some experts, however, argue that while the text in the final draft of the agreement has been watered down, Western governments could still use it to force poorer countries into adopting copyright policies.

The secrecy surrounding the negotiations has also damaged its credibility in the eyes of its opponents. Socialist MEP Kader Arif resigned as the European Parliament's rapporteur on Acta in late January. He criticised "never-before-seen manoeuvres" by officials preparing the treaty.

Last February, the French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net compiled a list of WikiLeaks cables on Acta. Several of the cables cite Swedish and Italian European negotiators concern over the high level of back-room dealing and lack of transparency during the talks.

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