As the nation prepares to celebrate its independence this weekend, an international agreement under negotiation in Switzerland this past week threatens to limit the protection of and extension of our freedoms to the Internet world. Americans and Internet users around the world are facing mounting efforts by governments to expand their control, restrict new models of communication, and deploy sweeping tools to inhibit dynamic Internet activity.

The USTR has released a brief statement on the secret talks to create an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the negotiation of which began in 2007 under the Bush Administration, with countries including Japan, Australia and the European Union.

ACTA is expected to increase intellectual property enforcement rules for the nations signing it, but does not also export the protections under U.S. law like fair use or other U.S. staples like freedom of speech and due process, with potentially disastrous results for global Internet companies [primarily US companies].

The Computer & Communications Industry Association fears ACTA will hand foreign governments and competitors new tools to attack to U.S. companies. ACTA could also compel Internet Access Providers to take on a greater “Big Brother” role, including steps to filter Internet content, to cut off service to customers and to be held liable for customers’ activity.

The following statement can be attributed to CCIA President and CEO Ed Black:

“We believe President Obama understands the value of technology and the Internet to empower citizens and has fought for open and high speed Internet access from here to China. He has also supported government transparency and making more government information available online to citizens. We are disappointed, therefore, that his administration is pushing an agreement that substantively threatens the benefits of technology and continues to limit the transparency surrounding an agreement that affects so many millions of Internet users and many related industries.

“The high tech industry hoped this Internet savvy president would look more to the future and not succumb to pressure from entrenched status quo interests. We’re extremely concerned the interests of average citizens and a broader array of industries important to the economy are not being taken into account.”

“If this agreement goes forward, it is going to subject U.S. companies to broad new liability at a time of economic stress. The cost of innovative companies having to defend themselves in foreign courts for activity that is legal in the U.S. could drive these companies out of foreign markets. We need to protect the jobs in the U.S. technology sector – not foreign IP lawyers.

“It concerns me the USTR indicates they are developing consensus with other nations on issues that are actually quite controversial among the general public and a broad array of industries domestically. This is backwards. These are broad rules being negotiated that will have major consequences far into the future. The more stakeholders they gather input from now, the better ability they have to be alerted to and understand those consequences. That can’t happen without transparency and sufficient time for through informed deliberation. We call on USTR to make public the latest draft of ACTA, and slow the rush to conclusion until greater consensus develops.”

 

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