The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement certainly sounds, just on the name of the thing alone, like not such a bad idea. But for the basic principles of personal privacy it is, and it's the latest in the recent rash of acronymic acts that the Internet's up in arms about. Here's what we in Australia need to know. ACTA — the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement if you're on first-name terms — is a trade agreement between a raft of countries, including the European Union, the USA and Australia. The agreement itself was signed back in October 2011 by eight countries, including Australia, while just recently the European Union and 22 of its member states signed up as well. ACTA's been around a long, long time — Giz first covered it back in 2009.
At its most basic level, ACTA's designed to target counterfeit goods (both digital and physical) worldwide through the establishment of a new worldwide legal framework to allow for the tracking of and prosecution of those engaged in acts of infringement under ACTA's purview. Not that some of the infringing acts aren't illegal in many ACTA countries anyway — but the matters of concern with ACTA have more to do with how it may (or will) be implemented.
There's really two parts of concern when it comes to ACTA. The first is that the negotiation process for it was held at high secrecy all the way along, with only invited parties being able to submit and be aware of exactly what was being negotiated at all. As an example, the Australian Pirate Party (which, not surprisingly, opposes ACTA) was only able to submit a formal submission in November last year — months after Australia had already signed up to ACTA itself, but a long time after the Pirate Party had already gone public in its opposition to ACTA generally.
That doesn't mean that the Pirate Party isn't still keeping up a level of opposition. As reported on Delimiter yesterday, it's still pushing for the government to reject the treaty, although it seems likely at this stage that without serious intervention, it'll pass.
There's been suggestion as to what ACTA's going to cover for some time but much of what's contentious around it surrounds what measures ISPs would be liable to enact to regulate user activity online. It's under the banner of protecting IP, but who makes that call, exactly? The only thing we do know... is that we're not allowed to know.
Last year, the Attorneys General department was claiming that it wasn't in the public interest that notes from a secret meeting between government representatives and ISPs should be released under a freedom of information act. Because… well, actually, I'm still a little stumped as to what relating to piracy law that the average layman shouldn't be privy to, unless somebody out there is pirating nuclear secrets, or something. Even then, if laws are going to be enacted as a result of ACTA, wouldn't it be good to know what those laws are?
ACTA has changed over time — it was proposed to be a three-strikes-and-you're-out trade agreement, and that part has all but fallen by the wayside — but critics of it point to a large quantity of rather vague wordage that could, amongst other issues, affect the development of generic medicines (because the IP is held by private firms) as well as oblige ISPs to track and deliver all sorts of end-user information over to government bodies in the name of copyright protection.
That's not just of concern to Giz readers who may be keen infringers of copyright — it'd be daft to say that there aren't some of you out there, based on the comments alone on most entertainment articles — but to anyone who wants any level of presumed privacy for their online activities. Critics of ACTA suggest that the broad scope and vague language of ACTA make it entirely possible that it could be used for wide scale digital snooping under the guise of protecting IP — but to quote from Juvenal, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
(Look it up. It'll do you good).
Image: Uncle Catherine