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Local view: Flawed anti-counterfeiting pact is Big Brother at its worst

As if SOPA was not bad enough. Though that bill and its Senate counterpart, PIPA, were rescinded, thanks to the protests of online activists, a much more potent threat to Internet freedom looms: ACTA.

As if SOPA was not bad enough. Though that bill and its Senate counterpart, PIPA, were rescinded, thanks to the protests of online activists, a much more potent threat to Internet freedom looms: ACTA.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, is an international treaty initially proposed by Japan and the United States in 2006. Its intentions are noble, albeit flawed, as was the case with SOPA. Its purpose is to create an entity, a completely separate organization, to establish a framework for targeting the distribution of copyrighted information, counterfeit goods and the like. Intellectual property is the priority, such as music and written products. It already has been signed by many countries, including Canada, Japan, the U.S., the EU and Australia.

ACTA has been a closely guarded secret until fairly recently. Both the Obama and Bush administrations cloaked the negotiation process, and the content of the proposal itself, under the veil of "national security," which was absurd. To compound the fact that the treaty has been worked on behind closed doors without the knowledge of the public it will affect, the entire negotiation has been performed by unelected bureaucrats practically eating out of the hands of corporate lobbyists.

It is interesting to note that despite his apparent disapproval of SOPA, President Obama has been pursuing this treaty with fervor. A startling pronouncement Obama issued was that ACTA actually is not a treaty but an "executive decision," thereby rending null the need for congressional approval. Unconstitutional? Possibly.

The potential effects of ACTA are disturbing. They're so bad, in fact, the European Union's rapporteur for the agreement, Kader Arif, resigned Jan. 27 due to his opposition. "This agreement can have major consequences on citizens' lives," he said. "I want to send a strong signal about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade."

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Now what exactly does ACTA do? Among other things, to protect copyrighted material on the Internet, ISPs would be forced to inspect every file and packet flowing through them, forcing them to police their users. If a user is caught downloading or distributing illegal files, intentionally or otherwise, that user would be reported. After a set amount of continued illegal activity, ISPs would then have to cut off Internet connection and the user could be imprisoned or fined.

It goes without saying that Big Brother would have increased powers to constantly watch our actions.

The wording in the treaty, as source after source confirms, is so vague, anyone, even those who innocently stumble upon copyrighted files, could potentially be criminalized.

Another potential problem is not on the Web, but in reality. The trade agreement aims to fight against "counterfeit" medicines and the use of patented seeds. Generic medicines could be at risk or even potentially taken away at the whims of zealous drug company oligarchs interested in monopolizing their industry. The ramifications for the poor, dependent on such medicines, and for farmers, dependent on patented seeds, are grim.

Thankfully, opposition has amassed against ACTA. The Internet conglomerate known as Anonymous has decried it through its Guy Fawkes mask-wearing spokesmen and its hacking of government websites in Europe. Polish protesters spoke out recently. India and Brazil have opposed it openly. And, now, you can, too. Research it for yourself and let your voice be heard.

Erik Bergholm is a columnist for the Hermantown Star. He wrote this for the News Tribune. He can be reached at saxabass@mchsi.com .

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGY
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