Law professors, interest groups call for ACTA transparency

A group of more than 75 law school professors wrote a letter to President Obama this past week calling for increased transparency regarding ongoing negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The talks, which have been in progress since June 2008, aim to establish an international framework that improves the enforcement of existing intellectual property right laws by creating improved international standards for actions against large-scale infringements of intellectual property.

The group argued that the Obama administration, despite previous promises, is “negotiating a far-reaching international intellectual property agreement behind a shroud of secrecy, with little opportunity for public input, and with active participation by special interests.” Since ACTA is an international treaty, the agreement can be made into law through a “sole executive agreement”, meaning it would not require Congressional or public approval. The group called upon the administration to hold a public, on-the-record hearing to discuss the draft text, a request the administration has repeatedly rejected.
Civil rights groups argue that the agreement would interfere with citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties by allowing internet service providers (ISPs) to collect information on copyright infringers. Law enforcement officials would also be given the ability to make arrests for copyright violations, which is criminalized under the Act. ISPs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of several groups pushing for greater transparency, claims that the agreement is a concern for citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights because of the possibility that ISPs will be inspecting citizens’ internet communications.

Both the Bush administration and the Obama administration had rejected several Freedom of Information Act requests by civil rights groups, academics, and even US Senators to release the text of the agreement, claiming that doing so would cause “damage to national security.” On 10 March 2010, however, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution to make ACTA text public, and on 20 April 2010, the first official current draft was released.

The final round of negotiations in Tokyo ended in a consolidated draft text, with a small number of issues remaining to be discussed.