Euro Data Protection Group Attacks ACTA

The independent authority warns that the multinational anti-piracy treaty could violate human rights and European law.

COLOGNE, Germany  - An independent advisory group has warned that ACTA, the multinational anti-piracy treaty which the European Parliament is set to vote into law later this year, could violate European laws protecting privacy and human rights.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), an independent authority that advises European bodies on data protection issues, said that the treaty, as written, is too vague and could result in the violation of individual rights if passed unchanged.

ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is a multinational treaty that aims to create a new global governing body to regulate and enforce copyright laws. The agreement has been signed by the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia and South Korea, among others, and was unanimously approved by the countries of the European Union in January this year.

But in an opinion published this week, the EDPS said ratifying ACTA could open the doors to indiscriminate or widespread monitoring of users' Internet behavior and electronic communications which could violate Europe's charter of fundamental rights.

In particular, the group said ACTA does not clearly define what behavior would be criminalized under the treaty and who would be tasked with enforcing it. EDPS warned that if the treaty was interpreted too widely, it could criminalize private, non-profit data sharing in a way that could violate freedom of speech and information laws. It also expressed concern that vague language in the treaty meant that non-judicial bodies could potentially carry out widespread, indiscriminate sweeps of Internet traffic, fishing for suspicious behavior.

"While more international cooperation is needed for the enforcement of Intellectual Property (IP) rights, the means envisaged must not come at the expense of the fundamental rights of individuals," said Giovanni Buttarelli, an assistant at the EDPS. "A right balance between the fight against IP infringements and the rights to privacy and data protection must be respected. It appears that ACTA has not been fully successful in this respect."

If the European Parliament votes to approve ACTA, the treaty will still have to be ratified by individual European countries before coming into force.

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