ACTA agreement gets thumbs down in EU Parliament

Committees vote against the controversial anti-piracy pact

European Parliament committees drove three more nails into ACTA's coffin on Thursday, voting to reject the international anti-piracy agreement.

The Civil Liberties committee voted overwhelming against ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), which aims to enforce intellectual property rights, while the Legal and Industry committees also recommended it be rejected.

The agreement can only enter into force if ratified by six of the 11 signatory states: the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.S. and Switzerland, and can only become E.U. law if approved by the European Parliament.

ACTA was signed by the European Commission and 22 E.U. member states in January, but following widespread civil protests throughout Europe, many countries back-pedaled on their decision to sign. Most have suspended ratification.

The anti-piracy pact has been mired in controversy ever since an initial draft was released by Wikileaks in 2008. Protesters are angry that it was largely negotiated in secret and worried that it leaves the door open for countries to force ISPs to police their own customers.

In April, Europe's top data privacy watchdog strongly criticized the international agreement, warning that it could lead to widespread monitoring of the Internet and breaches of individuals' right to privacy. Meanwhile, in January the European parliamentarian charged with assessing the agreement, Kader Arif, resigned from his post calling the negotiations a "masquerade." As recently as Tuesday, lawmakers in the Netherlands urged rejection of the treaty.

According to the parliamentarians who voted against the deal on Thursday, ACTA does not ensure full respect for private life or full protection of sensitive personal information. Internet providers should not police the Internet, added the Civil Liberties committee in a statement. The text also said that ACTA has too much ambiguity that cannot be tolerated when fundamental rights are at stake.

The Industry Committee said ACTA fails to balance intellectual property rights, business freedom, protection of personal data and the freedom to receive or provide information. It also says ACTA's approach to intellectual property ignores the specific features of each sector.

In an effort to placate critics, the European Commission, the body responsible for negotiating the agreement on behalf of the E.U., has asked the European Court of Justice for its opinion and urged the Parliament to wait for a ruling. But that does not look remotely likely to happen.

The International Trade Committee is due to adopt its position on June 21 and the agreement is scheduled to be put to a vote of the whole Parliament on July 3.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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