With Parliament Suspended, Harper Proceeds with Secretive Treaty Negotiations
I’m very glad to see that the NDP is taking notice of the Harper government’s participation in the ongoing Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty Agreement (ACTA) negotiations. Despite a lack of transparency and public consultation, some controversial details of the proposed agreement have been leaked.
The proposed agreement would include a “three strikes” policy on suspected illegal downloading. Under this policy, users would have their internet access cut off after being accused of copyright violations three times, whether or not those allegations are true. In contrast to our constitutionally-entrenched presumption of innocence, the “three strikes” rule would allow rights holders and service providers to sanction users in the absence of any credible evidence or proof. It would create an untenable imbalance of power between rights holders, service providers, and users by placing the onus of disproof on those least capable of defending themselves.
Loss of access to the internet would be a severe consequence for many users. As Cory Doctorow has pointed out, online communication has become increasingly essential for daily life in terms of employment, access to government services, etc.:
I mean, it’s not as though internet access is something important right?
In the past week, I’ve only used the internet to contact my employers around the world, my MP in the UK, to participate in a European Commission expert proceeding, to find out why my infant daughter has broken out in tiny pink polka-dots, to communicate with a government whistle-blower who wants to know if I can help publish evidence of official corruption, to provide references for one former student (and follow-up advice to another), book my plane tickets, access my banking records, navigate the new Home Office immigration rules governing my visa, wire money to help pay for the headstone for my great uncle’s grave in Russia, and to send several Father’s Day cards (and receive some of my own).
The internet is only that wire that delivers freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in a single connection. It’s only vital to the livelihood, social lives, health, civic engagement, education and leisure of hundreds of millions of people (and growing every day).
This trivial bit of kit is so unimportant that it’s only natural that we equip the companies that brought us Police Academy 11, Windows Vista, Milli Vanilli and Celebrity Dancing With the Stars with wire-cutters that allow them to disconnect anyone in the country on their own say-so, without proving a solitary act of wrongdoing.
Beyond the troubling “three strikes” proposal, the ACTA has troubling implications for privacy, freedom of association, and the innovative potential of collaborative online projects.
Negotiations are taking place at a time when Parliament is suspended, preventing opposition MPs from holding the government accountable in question period.
Privacy is important. You should protect yours.