Czech ‘pirates’ say gov’t suspension of ACTA ratification not enough

PM Petr Nečas says more study is needed on what impact the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) would have ‘in real life’

Politics & Policy|Society|Foreign Affairs
Brian Kenety | 07.02.2012
Czech Pirate Party (ČPS) leader Ivan Bartoš, seen at an anti-ACTA protest last week, views the government’s about-face as a cynical half-measure

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have followed in Poland’s footsteps and become the second and third EU member states, respectively, to halt the ratification of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The decision came after the group of cyber activists Anonymous hacked the official website of Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ party, the Civic Democrats (ODS), and released personal data of some 27,000 of its members.

“Under no circumstances could the government accept a situation under which civil liberties and free access to information would be in any way threatened,” Nečas’ said on Monday. “We must look at the potential impact it [ACTA] would have in real life.”

Apart from hacking the ODS website, in recent days Anonymous has also blocked the websites of the Czech government, the Copyright Protection Association (OSA), the lower house of Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) over the center-right government’s signing on to ACTA, which aims to enforce intellectual property rights and counter the pirating of digital content (software, movies, music, etc.) as well everything from medicine to controversial patents on GM crops. ‘Under no circumstances could the government accept a situation under which civil liberties and free access to information would be in any way threatened.’

Activists claim the law will lead to an erosion of individual rights and freedoms, government control of the Internet, and could even serve as an instrument of repression and for persecuting targeted individuals. “I want to emphasize that no checks of laptops on the borders, no monitoring of Internet users, no screening or similar things have ever threatened in the Czech Republic. No such threat has ever existed for a single moment," Nečas said.

Although hundreds of Czechs took to the streets last Thursday to protest the ratification of ACTA, in a demonstration organized by the Czech Pirate Party (ČPS), its leader, Ivan Bartoš, is not satisfied with the result. He sees the government’s about-face on ACTA as a cynical half-measure — rather than a suspension of the process, the government should withdraw from it, he says.

“We see this as populism. The moment the ‘Internet generation’ doesn’t like something the government suddenly decides to turn 180 degrees and halt the ratification,” Bartoš told the news server, adding that this doesn’t mean the government won’t agree similar measures outside the public eye in future.

The Czech Republic is one of 22 EU member states to have signed on to ACTA, along with the European Commission, the United States, Australia and Canada. Five other EU states — Cyprus, Estonia, The Netherlands, Germany and Slovakia — have said they plan to sign on to it pending the resolution of various technical matters. However, later on Monday Slovakia said it has suspended its ratification process, with Economy Minister Juraj Miškov saying a wide public debate was needed before the process could continue. “I will not support a treaty that could limit human rights and freedoms,” he said in a statement.

The international treaty has yet to be approved by the European Parliament, which must vote Yes or No and cannot introduce amendments. “For its part, the European Commission says ACTA does not restrict freedom of the Internet and does not impact or affect existing EU laws. Instead, the Commission argues that the bill protects jobs in a Europe that is losing €8 billion annually through counterfeit goods,” the news server reported on Tuesday. ‘The moment the “Internet generation” doesn’t like something the government suddenly decides to turn 180 degrees and halt the ratification.’

Despite Czech Ambassador to Japan Kateřina Fialková having signed ACTA in Tokyo on December 26, the controversial agreement still faces significant hurdles before it can take effect in the Czech Republic: it must first be passed by the European Parliament, then the Czech parliament and then be signed by the president.

The first talks about the ACTA were held in 2006 by representatives of Japan and the US at the G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Canada, the European Commission and Switzerland later joined the talks, followed by Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. However, plans for the treaty only reached the wider public following the publication of meeting minutes and other documents by Wikileaks in May 2008.

See related article: Czech Euro MPs oppose ‘completely wide of the mark’ ACTA 

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