posted 2012-02-17 17:04:31

First PIPA and SOPA, now ACTA

A lesser-known bill threatens freedoms; US already a signatory

David Khukhashvili

Staff Writer

Many Americans were aware of the recent talks that in Congress regarding SOPA and PIPA, but ACTA, a similar bill, is still unknown to many more, though it may be even more dangerous. ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is an intellectual property treaty that in its broadest sense is designed to strongly enforce copyright laws and intercept counterfeit goods. But these are not bad goals in and of themselves, especially since there is evidence linking counterfeited goods to terrorism. So what is wrong with ACTA? The answer lies at the root of its inception.

At the core of the negative ramifications associated with ACTA lies its utter disregard for transparency. In 2007, the United States and the European Union, along with several other nations, joined forces in drafting a trade agreement behind closed doors. No detailed information regarding the intricacies of this agreement was released to the public. To date, only limited information is available and most of this is from unofficial and unaffiliated third-party sources. A lack of transparency can be construed as a lack of democracy, and when bringing forth the issue of eroding civil, personal and economic liberties, SOPA and PIPA pale in comparison to ACTA.

While ACTA is an international agreement, it cannot be stated that it was drafted at an appropriate international forum or venue. ACTA was in fact negotiated outside of any existing international venues and excluded many developed and emerging market countries. ACTA increases the scope of law enforcement in intellectual property matters. Under ACTA, law enforcement is able to investigate and prosecute intellectual property infringement as high as the commercial scale. In the US, ACTA threatens due process of the law, as some of its provisions provide law enforcement the flexibility to circumvent protections such as probable cause.

The stringent intellectual property laws that will be enforced by ACTA could also have damaging effects on healthcare. One of the factors that play a key role in skyrocketing drug costs are patent laws. Under ACTA, generic drugs could potentially be classified as counterfeit, and patent holders would have legal protection to prevent the generic forms from entering certain markets. Stringent intellectual property laws have not been proven to prevent unlicensed drugs from entering the markets, but they have been proven to hamper broader access to critical and life-saving drugs for certain illnesses.

Like SOPA and PIPA, ACTA could also change the Internet forever. Internet service providers (ISPs) would have legal permission to police the use of the internet and would be required to disclose information, including privacy information, upon the request of law enforcement or other governmental bodies. ISPs under the ACTA agreement are “encouraged” to identify and remove any material that may be infringing on copyright laws. This would mean that ISPs would no longer host free software that can access copyrighted media. The filtering of the Internet would limit the free flow of information.

People are oblivious to ACTA for a simple reason: a lack of information. The standards that ACTA aims to impose have no place in American society or any democratic society for that matter. ACTA can potentially damage the viability of democracy and free markets. To date, over 22 countries are involved in talks concerning ACTA and the process is in progress. By limiting access to information, public ignorance is promoted and democracy is in danger.