Take action against ACTA

By Luke Wilusz

While the U.S. congress’ Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act were successfully halted in the past few weeks, threats to free speech, privacy and an open Internet are still very real and on a larger scale than those two bills. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a treaty that aims to establish a strong international network of copyright enforcement regulations, has been gaining support from countries across the globe for years.

ACTA was created by the U.S. and Japan in 2006 and has been largely negotiated and written outside of the public eye. It was also created outside of the authority of the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the United Nations and any other existing organizations with the authority to regulate international trade and intellectual property policies. The treaty calls for all participating nations to enact procedures such as border searches and Internet monitoring practices to curb the distribution and trade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyrighted material.

While the treaty expressly states that these measures are meant to target larger scale commercial activity rather than the actions of individual citizens, there’s no way of knowing how many lines will be crossed once these measures are actually implemented. The biggest problem is that the treaty has never been put out for public review.

Numerous countries have already signed the ACTA. The U.S. participated in a signing ceremony in Tokyo on Oct. 1, 2011, with seven other countries, accepting the terms of the treaty via executive action by the Obama administration without any approval or input from Congress. When Poland’s ambassador to Japan signed the treaty and the Polish government announced an upcoming vote to ratify it, online activist group Anonymous seized the opportunity to channel the recent popular outrage over SOPA and PIPA into an anti-ACTA movement. Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Polish cities to speak out against the threats the treaty poses to online privacy and free expression, and hackers began to launch attacks on several Polish government websites.

Despite the fact that most people haven’t heard much about ACTA before now, the treaty is undeniably a very big deal. The most important thing anybody concerned with privacy, free speech and digital rights can do right now is raise awareness of the issue and bring it into the public spotlight the same way they did for the SOPA and PIPA legislation.

These regulations should probably be stopped altogether, but they should at the very least be made available for public scrutiny and comment, not only in the U.S. but in every country that has signed the treaty. ACTA could profoundly affect the liberties and rights of people all over the world, and those people deserve to know about it and have some sort of say in the matter before any sort of legal regulations or invasions of privacy are imposed upon them.