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Potential threats to online free expression seen in draft trade treaty

(RSF/IFEX) - 23 April 2010 - Reporters Without Borders welcomes yesterday's release by the European Commission of the draft Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which until now has been the subject of confidential negotiations among some 40 countries. In its present form, the draft nonetheless contains a number of provisions that could pose a threat to online free expression.

"Although it is a pity that the different positions of the various governments involved do not appear in this document, a real public debate will finally be able to be held about this proposed agreement, one that could have a considerable impact on freedom of expression despite being a trade agreement," Reporters Without Borders said.

"We urge the negotiators not to sacrifice online free speech and access to information for the sake of combating piracy and the counterfeiting of works protected by copyright," the press freedom organisation continued. "It is essential to modify provisions that could lead to disconnect Internet access and provisions for online filtering in violation of the Net Neutrality principle. The concept of the Internet as a fundamental right should be clearly stated in the agreement, including in its preamble. Judicial procedures guaranteeing transparency and defence rights must also be defined more clearly."

Reporters Without Borders added: "For the time being, this accord is mainly being negotiated by democratic countries but it is supposed to be eventually extended to other countries such as China, which do not have adequate safeguards for free expression and the confidentiality of personal information."

The draft agreement covers a wide range of subjects from counterfeiting pharmaceutical drugs to the illegal downloading of works protected by copyright. Section 4 specifically concerns the digital environment. For the most part, the wording of its provisions is very general and open to differing interpretation by individual governments.

Although there is no longer any direct reference to the three strike approach in this version of the agreement, some of its provisions could nonetheless allow the disconnecting of Internet access. One of the "options" for governments mentioned in the draft is "suspension of access to information." The draft would also allow a court to issue an injunction, including at the start of a case, to prevent an "imminent violation."
See the full press release

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