European Parliament demands transparency in ACTA talks

Threat of legal action if Parliametn isn't shown the controversial negotiating documents

The European Parliament demanded Wednesday that the European Commission open up secret negotiations about an anticounterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) to the public.

In a near unanimous vote, 633 members of Parliament (MEPs) backed the resolution, which says that the lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations is unacceptable. Only 13 MEPs opposed the resolution and 16 abstained.

Apart from the lack of transparency, the Parliamentarians also object to parts of the text that seek to clamp down on illegal file sharing over the Internet.

According to leaks of the confidential negotiating text that appeared last month, the U.S. has proposed a chapter of the treaty that focuses largely on copyright enforcement on the Internet.

It proposes forcing ISPs to take "effective measures" to ensure that their subscribers do not illegally upload or download copyright-protected content such as music or movies.

It also suggests that one way to do this would be for countries that sign the treaty to adopt policies such as the controversial "three strikes" rule recently adopted in France that requires ISPs to sever an illegal file-sharing subscriber's Internet connection after two warnings.

"We are giving private companies sweeping rights to monitor indiscriminately every citizen's activities on the Internet," said Stavros Lambrinidis, a Greek socialist MEP during a debate on the resolution late Tuesday.

And referring to the three strikes suggestion he added: "Access to the Internet is in itself a fundamental right. It must be treated and protected as such."

German liberal MEP Alexander Alvaro said that any international agreement affecting the everyday lives of European citizens "must be discussed in a transparent and public manner -- especially when issues such as blocking Internet access of citizens are part of the agreement."

Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, who heads the division of the Commission that is responsible for negotiating the ACTA on behalf of the European Union, said during the Parliamentary debate late Tuesday that he wants to make the talks more transparent, but he added that sharing the negotiating document with parliamentarians and the public, as the resolution demands, would require the unanimous agreement of all countries involved in the talks.

"The Commission is in favor of releasing the negotiating documents as soon as possible. However, a few ACTA negotiating parties remain opposed to an early release," de Gucht told MEPs, adding: "I strongly disagree with their approach, but I can not unilaterally breach a confidentiality commitment. My credibility as a negotiator is at stake."

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