The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge have filed suit against the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), demanding information about a secret intellectual property enforcement treaty that the government has put on a fast track to completion.
The United States, Canada, the European Community, Switzerland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates are currently actively negotiating the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
However, all the negotiations so far have been shrouded in secrecy, even though its claimed the agreement could put into effect serious changes in the law.
A document leaked to the public shows that ACTA could include criminal measures, increased border search powers, and encouragement for Internet service providers to cooperate with copyright holders.
Despite the significant impact ACTA could have on consumers and the lack of official information available to the public, treaty proponents want a deal signed by the end of the year.
“ACTA raises serious concerns for citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights,” said EFF International Policy Director Gwen Hinze. “This treaty could potentially change the way your computer is searched at the border or spark new invasive monitoring from your ISP. People need to see the full text of ACTA now, so that they can evaluate its impact on their lives and express that opinion to their political leaders. Instead, the USTR is keeping us in the dark while talks go on behind closed doors.”
Because of the questions raised by ACTA, EFF and Public Knowledge filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in June for records on the treaty and the negotiations surrounding the deal. EFF and Public Knowledge later clarified the scope of their request in July in response to concerns raised by the USTR. But the USTR still failed to provide any relevant documents.
“The lack of transparency in this process is incredibly alarming,” said Public Knowledge Staff Attorney Sherwin Siy. “Whatever form ACTA eventually takes, we can be sure it will be used to justify further international agreements and laws. The agreement text needs to be made public to ensure that it doesn’t encroach upon the rights of users, consumers, and citizens to access knowledge, information, and content.”
Earlier this week, EFF and Public Knowledge joined more than 100 public interest organizations from around the world calling for answers about ACTA.
The coalition is asking for treaty negotiators to immediately publish the draft text of the agreement, as well as pre-draft discussion papers.