European Parliament trade committee gives ACTA thumbs down

The committee also decided not to postpone the full parliamentary vote on the treaty

The European Parliament's trade committee, INTA, on Thursday recommended rejecting the ACTA anti-piracy treaty. It also decided not to postpone the crucial parliamentary vote on the controversial agreement.

The committee voted 19 to 12 to recommend rejecting ACTA. INTA is the lead committee examining the international agreement and its recommendation will carry weight with the rest of the Parliament.

The full Parliamentary plenary vote is now scheduled for July 3. It seems likely that the Parliament will reject the treaty, which has caused widespread concern among civil liberties groups. This is despite attempts by the European Commission, which negotiated the agreement on behalf of the E.U., to push the deal through.

ACTA seeks to enforce intellectual property rights and combat online piracy and illegal software. But digital rights groups are worried that the final wording of the agreement leaves the door open for Internet service providers to be forced to police their own customers. According to the final ACTA text, a country may "order an online service provider to disclose expeditiously to a right holder information sufficient to identify a subscriber whose account was allegedly used for infringement".

Although the express aim of the agreement is to clamp down on "commercial scale" piracy of intellectual property, this scale is poorly defined in the agreement. Even European Conservatives and Reformists Parliamentarian Syed Kamall, who was in favor of waiting for a ruling from the European Court of Justice before reaching a decision on ACTA, said on Wednesday that he had concerns about the definition of "commercial scale". However he added that fears about ISPs becoming the unofficial police force of the Internet were a matter of interpretation.

Other digital rights groups, including EDRi and La Quadrature du Net, have raised concerns about so-called dual use technologies as the agreement also requires more extensive policing of the circumvention of technical protection measures than is currently required in international agreements.

In April, Europe's top data privacy watchdog, the European Data Protection Supervisor, also strongly criticized the agreement warning that it could lead to widespread monitoring of the Internet and breaches of individuals' right to privacy. He added that many of the measures to strengthen IP enforcement online could involve "the large scale monitoring of users' behavior and of their electronic communications" including emails, private peer-to-peer file sharing and websites visited.

The trade committee's vote on Thursday makes the opinions of the committees called on to assess the treaty unanimous. The Parliament's legal affairs, development, civil liberties and industry committees all voted to reject ACTA last month.

ACTA can only enter into force after ratification by six signatory states of the total 11, which include the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the U.S. It was signed by the European Commission and 22 E.U. member states in January, but before it can become E.U. law it must be approved by the European Parliament.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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