– Ahmed S. Minhas, staff

The defeat of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) earlier this month came as a massive victory for Internet freedom activists. However, unbeknownst to the general world population, there was another bill being pushed through in international courts, ACTA.

ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) first came to light in May 2008 from a document that was uploaded to Wikileaks. ACTA proposed to establish an international legal framework and create a governing body outside international institutions such as the World Trade Organization or the United Nations. ACTA, a free-standing  plurilateral agreement would allow countries to join on a voluntary basis.

Canada, along with the USA and the European Union signed ACTA in October 2011, in Tokyo, Japan. According to critics, ACTA bypasses laws of sovereign nations and forces Internet Service Providers to allow intensive surveillance of their customers.

Specifically described in Chapter Two, Section Five of the agreement;

“A Party may provide, in accordance with its laws and regulations, its competent authorities with the authority to order an online service provider to disclose expeditiously to a right holder information sufficient to identify a subscriber whose account was allegedly used for infringement…”

And in Chapter Three;

“Each party shall promote the collection and analysis of statistical data and other relevant information concerning intellectual property rights infringements as well as the collection of information on best practices to prevent and combat infringements.”

A ‘Party’ being a voluntary member would use its governing power to force ISP’s to collect packets of information from each of its subscribers and report it back to the Party. Any intellectual property rights infringements (such as downloading music, movies, eBooks and other online media) whether intentional or not would be passed onto intellectual property rights holders (Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America).

Although ACTA may seem quite scary with what it may be able to do, it’s been watered down according to Canadian academic Michael Geist. On Friday, Geist wrote on his website: “Some are characterizing ACTA as worse than SOPA, but the reality is somewhat more complicated. From a substantive perspective, ACTA’s Internet provisions are plainly not as bad as those contemplated by SOPA. Over the course of several years of public protest and pressure, the Internet provisions were gradually watered down with the removal of three strikes and you’re out language.”

Canada and the USA have already signed ACTA and although a large number of protests are occurring throughout the EU member states, the EU is also going ahead with the signing of ACTA. However, ACTA can only come into effect once five countries formally implement and ratify it, which is expected by May 2013.

ACTA isn’t the only agreement attempting to restrict freedom on the Internet and take control over anything and everything that is considered intellectual property. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are other plurilateral agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that could be even more restrictive than ACTA.

“The dangers associated with ACTA are not limited to this particular agreement. The agreement opens the door to further secretive negotiations, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which contain extensive IP provisions that extend beyond ACTA.  The SOPA battle was a big win for those concerned with balanced copyright and the open Internet, but it is by no means the end of the fight,” wrote Geist.

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