The small victory the internet community and civil liberty supporters celebrated at the demise of SOPA/PIPA due to the mass online protests gave big media the opportunity to draw attention away from a far more ambitious and more dangerous piece of governmental legislation called the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA.
This past Friday, big media interests, the Obama administration and the EU got together in Tokyo, Japan to hail the signing ACTA.
But why is ACTA so bad? Well first off, it’s incredibly similar to SOPA/PIPA in the way it allows the shutdown of websites. The only difference being that SOPA/PIPA would only allow takedown requests from domestic firms. But ACTA doesn’t make any distinction. To put this in perspective let’s just pretend there is a foreign e-commerce site that wants to remove their American competition. All they really need to do is pretend to be a reviewer and post a link to infringing content, say to a torrent on The Pirate Bay. With all the circumstantial evidence laid down, all this foreign company would have to do is to ask for a takedown of the site and presto, no more competition. Well at least not until the American company can prove its innocence, a process which will take weeks and could result in millions of dollars of business for the victim e-commerce site. Or if not a business, think of a news site like ours. If someone was to post infringing content in the comments section below, another entity could request pnosker.com be taken down, effectively censoring news organizations as well. There’s even a provision in the agreement called “imminent infringement,” which can be committed simply by visiting a webpage with an illegally shared media work. So even if you have no intention of visiting or using pirated material, you are assumed that just by visiting the website that has that link, that it was your goal to do so. Many who’ve read George Orwell’s 1984 will understand the comparison a “though crime” as it seeks to punish people for actions they haven’t even committed yet.
But aside from the ease at which websites may be disrupted, the US government has an idea for a system designed to keep track of all this and punish you for your online “thought crimes.” And this is the point where ACTA goes way beyond SOPA/PIPA. The proposed mechanism is called Universal Internet ID, or UIID for short, and is being described as being similar to a driver’s license for the internet. And while this is so far a “non-mandatory” measure, its implications for governmental surveillance and censorship are very troubling as it could easily be made mandatory. The real problem with UIID is that it will give the US government access to watch, track, monitor and potentially control your activity on the Internet. That’s not like any drivers license I’ve ever heard of.
So if ACTA has even more over reaching implications of Governmental censorship and surveillance than SOPA/PIPA did, how come not many people have heard of it? The reason not many people have heard about this is because ACTA is being carried out in secret through the use of executive orders, so in effect it isn’t available for public review, you can’t read it. In fact, no one would have even heard about all this was it not for some source(s) close to the trade agreement who leaked it onto the internet.
But it may prop up in public discourse because media companies are attempting to push through some measures which were in the original document, but dropped due to protests from smaller European nations. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation stated,
[T]he same industry rights holder groups that support the creation of ACTA have also called for mandatory network-level filtering by Internet Service Providers and for Internet Service Providers to terminate citizens’ Internet connection on repeat allegation of copyright infringement (the “Three Strikes” /Graduated Response) so there is reason to believe that ACTA will seek to increase intermediary liability and require these things of Internet Service Providers. While mandating copyright filtering by ISPs will not be technologically effective because it can be defeated by use of encryption efforts to introduce network level filtering will likely involve deep packet inspection of citizens’ Internet communications. This raises considerable concerns for citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights and the future of Internet innovation.”
And this push from the entertainment industry illuminates one of the worst problems about this ACTA document because it highlight the fact that ACTA is fluid, an agreement which can easily be altered at any time with very little energy. So it really isn’t a problem for large media companies, with all their money, to get the provision they want so long as the majority of the public doesn’t hear about it. I imagine it’ll become much more difficult if there is another public outcry like the one against SOPA/PIPA.
The similarity between ACTA and SOPA/PIPA doesn’t just stop there. ACTA is also most likely unconstitutional and violates civil liberties. In a very enlightening article Jason highlights in section IV why this agreement is most likely illegal and in full opposition to the tenets of the US Constitution. Put in a nut shell, ACTA would violate the fourth amendment that protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizure. The proposed UIID very clearly tracks and monitors all online activity and is therefore unconstitutional. Not only this but the fact that the Obama administration is using executive orders to pass this through is also unconstitutional because it is the responsibility of congress to govern all things that relate to intellectual property issues.
So to sum it all up:
1) ACTA is worse than SOPA/PIPA because it is even more far-reaching in giving US government the ability to monitor and censor online activities. The start of a very slippery slope to an Orwellian America, so far as the online world is concerned.
2) It is probably unconstitutional and violates (at least) the Fourth Amendment.
3) ACTA is being supported mainly by large media companies such as News Corp. which owns many FOX properties and the Warner Music Group.
ACTA is not yet complete. Nor is it currently being enforced. So while the large internet companies, which were so crucial to the success of the protests against SOPA/PIPA, like Google have spoken against ACTA, they are currently waiting to see how it is carried out. Anonymous seems to be the only organization that is currently opposing the trade agreement through a series of hacktivist distributed denial of service attacks similar to the one enacted after the shut down of megaupload. To oppose ACTA and all that it implies you can sign the Congressional petition to formally review/publish ACTA.
At this point ACTA is very scary but far from a done deal. The reason SOPA/PIPA didn’t pass was because the internet community was fervent about raising awareness. Dealing with ACTA should be the same.
What are you’re thoughts on ACTA? Please post your thoughts/comments/ideas/viewpoint in the comments section below.