EU Parliament throws out legislation after months of protests

Source: Steve Watson

The global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), arguably the most draconian internet control legislation penned thus far, has been overwhelmingly rejected by European lawmakers following months of protests and activism undertaken by thousands across the continent.

In January of this year, twenty-two of the 27 EU states joined other countries, including the United States and Japan, in  signing on to ACTA. However, it has yet to be ratified anywhere and strong protests in Europe have caused other countries, such as Australia to delay consideration of the treaty.

In the past few months, the legislation has been dealt blow after blow with no less than five powerful EU committees, as well as member states, officially rejecting the treaty.

This morning, the European Parliament voted 478 against, 39 in favour, with 165 abstentions, effectively killing the legislation in its current form and ensuring for the first time that an international trade agreement cannot be ratified into law in the EU.

The EU Parliament released a statement pointing to the “unprecedented direct lobbying by thousands of EU citizens who called on it to reject ACTA, in street demonstrations, emails to MEPs and calls to their offices”. The statement also acknowledged a petition that had been signed by 2.8 million citizens urging them to reject the treaty.

Had it been ratified, ACTA would have allowed companies in China or any other country in the world to demand ISPs remove web content in the US and Europe with no legal oversight whatsoever.

Under the provisions of ACTA, copyright holders would be granted sweeping direct powers to demand ISPs remove material from the Internet on a whim. Whereas ISPs normally are only forced to remove content after a court order, all legal oversight would be abolished, a precedent that would apply globally, rendering the treaty worse in its potential scope for abuse than all other currently circulating internet control legislation, such as CISPA, SOPA or PIPA.

The groups pushing the treaty also want to empower copyright holders with the ability to demand that users who violate intellectual property rights (with no legal process) have their Internet connections terminated, a punishment that could only ever be properly enforced by the creation of an individual Internet ID card for every web user, a system that is already in the works.

“The same industry rightsholder 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,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation has noted.

When he signed on to ACTA in October last year, President Obama completely bypassed the Senate, as he generally does these days.

The legislation is currently the subject of a White House petition demanding Senators be forced to ratify the treaty. The White House has circumvented the necessity to have the treaty confirmed by lawmakers by presenting it an as “executive agreement,” although legal scholars have highlighted the dubious nature of this characterization.

With the total rejection of the legislation by the European Parliament, it is now highly unlikely that ACTA will be further considered for ratification in the US.

ACTA’s downfall gathered pace in April, when a SECOND member of the European parliamnent who was appointed to oversee the treaty called for the legislation to be scrapped, just weeks after his predecessor quit the post in disgust.

MEP David Martin denounced ACTA, saying that “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties.”

“Given the vagueness of certain aspects of the text and the uncertainty over its interpretation, the European Parliament cannot guarantee adequate protection for citizens’ rights in the future under Acta.” Martin added.

Martin was appointed to the position of EU rapporteur for ACTA in February. In the role he was responsible for investigating the pending legislation and presenting it to Parliament.

Reiterating  his previous sentiments, Martin today said “I am very pleased that Parliament has followed my recommendation to reject Acta.”

Martin took the position following the resignation of MEP Kader Arif, who concluded that the treaty was a monstrous disaster for privacy and human rights, and that the secretive nature in which it had been drafted by industry lobbyists and government hands was wholly corrupt.

Advising that the EU reject the treaty, Arif said, “I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.”

“Everyone knows the ACTA agreement is problematic, whether it is its impact on civil liberties, the way it makes Internet access providers liable (our emphasis), its consequences on generic drugs manufacturing, or how little protection it gives to our geographical indications,” he said.

“This agreement might have major consequences on citizens’ lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.” Arif concluded.

Today, anti-ACTA activists lauded the EU rejection of the treaty. Pirate Party leader Loz Kaye said: “The European Parliament vote is a triumph of democracy over special interests and shady back-room deals. This is a significant victory for digital rights, and it’s thanks to the tireless work of activists and grass roots organisations, including the Pirate Party world wide. Without this opposition, our representatives would have waved this agreement through. It is now clear that it is becoming increasingly politically poisonous to be ‘anti-internet’.”

Rest assured, however, the architects of this monolithic internet censorship bill will not take its defeat lying down. There can be no doubt that they will attempt to resurrect ACTA in a different form somewhere down the road.

As expert in Internet and E-commerce Law professor Michael Geist notes today, “ACTA supporters will not take today’s decision as the final verdict. In the coming weeks and months, we can expect new efforts to revive the agreement within Europe and to find alternative means to implement its provisions. That suggests the fight will continue, but for today, it is worth celebrating how the seemingly impossible – stopping a one-sided, secretly negotiated global IP agreement – became possible.”

There are also many many more battles to be fought to maintain internet freedom, in an ongoing struggle against the long running agenda to completely re-structure and centralize the internet under global governmental control.