Sunday

26th Jan 2020

Opinion

Right to privacy at risk in anti-piracy talks

  • The talks could end in customs officials checking the contents of laptops (Photo: European Commission)

Since last spring,‭ ‬The European Union,‭ ‬the United States,‭ ‬Canada,‭ ‬Switzerland and Japan have been‭ negotiating a new anti-online piracy treaty‭ ‬-‭ ‬the so called ACTA treaty. The process is characterised by extreme secrecy,‭ ‬and even though the negotiations could result in new,‭ harsh‬ file-sharing laws in member states it's impossible for the media and for the public to participate in the discussion.‭

Protests from organizations and IT businesses have been ignored by the EU.‭ ‬Any member state that believes in openness should protest and demand that the European Commission makes public which new anti-file-sharing laws they are pushing for with a European mandate.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

ACTA negotiations are founded on a belief that stronger enforcement of intellectual property rights would benefit the economy.‭ ‬This presumption‭ ‬-‭ widespread ‬in the political establishment‭ ‬-‭ ‬is highly controversial.‭ ‬Studies from Harvard and from The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm conclude that there is no clear connection between on-line piracy and the sales of copyrighted works.‭ ‬

The fair-use industry‭ ‬-‭ ‬businesses taking advantage of the fair-use exemptions from the copyright law as Google does when indexing the web‭ ‬-‭ ‬contributes more to the economy than do copyright-dependent industries.‭ ACTA negotiators, however,‭ ‬working closely with the copyright industry,‭ ‬are not likely to take such facts into account.

Secret information believed to have leaked from the ACTA negotiations has caused speculation about the purpose of the ACTA initiative.‭ ‬Canadian newspapers reported that Internet Service Providers may be forced to give up information about their customers,‭ ‬which would compromise internet users‭' ‬privacy protection.‭ ‬The treaty could also make a criminal out of anyone who facilitates copyright infringments,‭ ‬for instance by developing effective copying tools.‭ ‬

Such regulations would inhibit technical innovation in Europe and strike a hard blow against the IT sector.‭ ‬Most eye-popping are press reports claiming that customs officials could get the authority to search travelers‭' ‬mp3‭ -players and laptop computers to identify unlawfully copied material.‭ ‬If this is correct,‭ ‬it is yet another example of how the political elite's campaign against file sharing is resulting in an increasingly intrusive control state.

Which fears are unfounded and which fears are to be taken seriously we don't know,‭ ‬as a result of the secrecy surrounding the talks.‭ ‬Neither the public nor elected representatives know what government officials and lobbyists will agree on behind closed doors. Unfortunately, some elected representatives don't even want to scrutinise the treaty. As recently as last week, the European Parliament rejected a motion to demand relevant information from the European Commission.

The public being prevented from examining an agreement that could change our law is inconsistent with the openness that we are used to in the legislative process.‭ ‬From a democratic perspective,‭ ‬the secret ACTA negotiations are unacceptable.‭ ‬EU member states are represented by the commission,‭ ‬which got this mandate to negotiate from the Agriculture and Fisheries Council - a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.‭ ‬

The decision in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council was taken without debate,‭ ‬and the ministers most likely had no idea what they were deciding.‭ ‬The positions of the member states were co-ordinated in the so-called‭ ‬Article 133‭ Committee‬.‭ ‬This committee too is sheltered from public scrutiny.‭ ‬Hence,‭ ‬citizens don't know their own government's position on ACTA and have no one to hold accountable.‭

In an open IT society the situation raises several concerns.‭ ‬First of all,‭ ‬ACTA could be another step in the direction of more government control of citizens.‭ ‬Secondly,‭ ‬the behind-closed-doors process puts normal democratic rules out of play.‭ ‬Member states that value openness must make clear to the EU establishment that they don't accept what is now happening,‭ ‬and that they will not join an international convention that is established on the current terms.

The author is a representative of the Moderate Party in the Swedish Parliament

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Focus

EU's secretive anti-piracy talks cause concern

EU officials are working on a global intellectual property treaty which could rewrite national legislation on copyright, but which is being put together in a secretive process which helps to "launder" policies that may be too unpopular to pass through normal democratic channels.

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Eastern Partnership must now improve media freedoms

The EU can hardly criticise Eastern Partnership countries for disrespecting media freedom. Five EU member states, including current presidency Croatia, came below Armenia and Georgia in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index. Bulgaria ranked nine places behind Ukraine.

Column

What's Libya's impact on EU foreign policy?

The Libya case might finally give the EU some strategic clarity. This sounds like a small thing, but EU foreign policy is in such bad shape that it would be a big leap forward.

Why isn't Germany helping gay rights in Hungary, Poland?

The European Centre-Right LGBT+ Alliance demands Germany give up its resistance to the Anti-Discrimination Directive and suggest the commission and centre-right parties exert further pressure on Polish and Hungarian authorities to improve conditions for the LGBT+ community and people.

Is there more than coffee for European Works Councils?

In 1994, the EU decided that, at least, the employee representatives of a multinational were to meet each other and the management from time to time. In these meetings, management had to inform and consult the employees about transnational issues.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan premier refuses to step down, despite ruling
  2. UK set to support new fossil fuel projects in Africa
  3. Leftists MEPs travel to visit jailed Catalan MEP
  4. Bulgaria may expel Russian diplomats over 'espionage'
  5. EU, China, others agree on WTO body to settle disputes
  6. EU Commission makes move against Poland on judges law
  7. Soros pledges $1bn for liberal universities
  8. Merkel: Germany unprepared for 2015 refugee crisis

Column

Why nations are egomaniacs

A nation, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, is not capable of altruism. Even less so, if such a group has formed on the basis of strong emotions and casts itself as the "saviour of the nation".

Maltese murder - the next rule-of-law crisis in EU?

While Poland's government is escalating its rule of law crisis by introducing even more drastic measures against the country's judges, another problem is looming over the EU's commitment to upholding the rule of law: Malta.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. AI must have human oversight, MEPs recommend
  2. Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal
  3. Why do EU arms end up in Libya despite UN ban?
  4. Brexit deal to be signed, as sides poised for tough talks
  5. Timmermans urges EU governments to tax carbon
  6. Vietnam sent champagne to MEPs ahead of trade vote
  7. China spy suspect had EU permission to work as lobbyist
  8. EU to unveil 5G 'toolbox' to tackle security threats

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us