ACTA: the Internet Censorship “Law” That Can Not be Repealed?

Just last month millions of Americans rallied to defeat SOPA and PIPA. However, something worse has crept in the back-door and may not be able to be repealed. In October 2011 President Obama signed an international agreement called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA.

A letter from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison says, “The Obama Administration negotiated the ACTA as an executive agreement. Therefore, the agreement does not require congressional approval, unless the agreement contains statutory changes to current U.S. law. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) claims that ACTA is consistent with U.S. law and enacting legislation from Congress is unnecessary.
“The Obama Administration’s unilateral actions, however, raise two important questions. First, is the Administration’s end-run to avoid Congressional review constitutionally supportable? Second, without Congressional review, how can we be satisfied that the ACTA would strike a constructive balance between protecting U.S. economic interests and individuals’ online privacy?”

While these questions may never be answered in the United States, the European Court of Justice will review ACTA to clarify whether or not the agreement and its implementation are fully compatible with freedom of expression and freedom of the Internet.

PCMagazine reports that EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht is stressing the idea behind ACTA is to “raise global standards of enforcement of intellectual property rights.” De Gutch says the standards are already in place in Europe, but getting other countries to agree will help European countries “defend themselves against blatant rip-offs of their products and works when they do business around the world” and that ACTA will not change European law.

The USTR is saying that ACTA will not change existing U.S. law, either. That begs the question: if ACTA will not change any existing law, what is the point of the agreement?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, “The Fact Sheet published by the USTR together with the USTR’s 2008 ‘Special 301’ report make it clear that the goal is to create a new standard of intellectual property enforcement above the current internationally-agreed standards.” EFF also reports, “a document recently leaked to the public entitled ‘Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement’ from an unknown source gives an indication of what content industry rightsholder groups appear to be asking for – including new legal regimes to ‘encourage [internet service providers] (ISPs) to cooperate with right holders in the removal of infringing material’ criminal measures and increased border search powers.”

It seems to me that ACTA will increase the power of ISPs and encourage them to remove content. It is yet to be seen if ISPs will only remove copyrighted material or if they will move to censor politically objectionable content and possibly stifle the free press.