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February 22, 2012

EU Suspends Ratification of ACTA
By Jacqueline Lee
Contributing Writer

In the face of opposition from the public as well as the hacker group Anonymous, the E.U. has suspended ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Today, the European Commission asked Europe’s highest court to make a ruling on the legality of the agreement.

Opposition to ACTA started in Eastern Europe and has spread to cities like Berlin, where thousands rallied on February 18 to protest the agreement. Similar rallies are expected on Saturday, February 25. Also, Anonymous has hacked several websites in what it claims is a protest of ACTA, including the Federal Trade Commission website and the National Consumer Protection Week website. The group claims to have stolen many sensitive data items, particularly personal data about FTC (News - Alert) employees.

ACTA is designed to protect people and companies from intellectual property theft. For instance, a company could not manufacture handbags in Singapore and label them as Gucci when they are not. Companies committing such acts of intellectual property theft would be subject to prosecution under integrated international copyright laws. However, ACTA may have unintended consequences for Internet freedom.

Under the treaty, ISPs would be required to monitor data packets as they travel into computers and mobile devices. If the data pack was found to contain copyrighted material that users are sharing without authorization, then the website could be taken down, and the users could be prosecuted. Also, after repeated offenses, whether intentional or unintentional, the ISP could deny the user access to the Internet altogether. The opposition to ACTA stems from both the monitoring burden that would be placed on ISPs as well as the potential compromise of user privacy.

“I share people's concern for these fundamental freedoms... especially over the freedom of the Internet,” E.U. trade commissioner Karel De Gucht stated in a press conference. “This debate must be based upon facts, and not upon the misinformation and rumor that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.”

Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania had all backed away from supporting ACTA, which had made E.U. approval look less and less certain.

Edited by Rich Steeves


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