Today in Geneva Switzerland, at an undisclosed location, the US government, the European Commission, Japan and a handful of other countries will meet in a secret negotiation on a new treaty.
The working name is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a name that masks the much broader subject matter, and one that was deliberately chosen to intimidate and discourage politicians from expressing opposition to provisions that undermine civil rights and privacy, and which many say will change the substantive rights the public has to use copyrighted works or inventions. What member of Congress or Parliament wants to be accused of protecting counterfeiters?
The US, EU and other governments involved in this project have not released details of the substantive provisions under discussion. Press reports in Canada in Europe have focused on provisions that would involve searches of computers, cell phones or iPods for infringing software or music files. Others have discussed changes in international law regarding injunctions for alleged infringements of intellectual property rights, expanded ex officio powers for governments, tougher sanctions, special programs to train judges or law enforcement officials, and other measures, most of which is speculation based upon some of the "asks" by lobbyists from the computer game, software, music, film, pharmaceutical and fashion industries. (See Shaw, Geist, ipjustice, IP-Watch, Arstechnica, King, EFF,
IQsensato and Patry.)
There is a huge rush to conclude this agreement before Bush leaves office. So far, no Democratic member of Congress has expressed much interest in the details of the agreement, or asked probing questions about why such a potentially far reaching treaty is being rushed through under a cloud of secrecy, described by some as cloak and dagger.
This "patriot act" for intellectual property "crimes" may be one of the late legacies of the Bush Administration. It would be nice to have more transparency about such a far reaching and important global trade agreement. Particularly since the current negotiation strategy seems to be to present the Congress with a fully negotiated text for an up or down vote, before there has been any debate of the actual provisions of the agreement, or consideration of alternative approaches, including those that have fewer negative impacts on privacy, due process or consumer rights.
There are undoubtedly reasons for such tight secrecy and the use of thought-stopping terms like "anti-counterfeiting" to name this agreement. But they are undoubtedly the wrong reasons for the public. They are signals that the treaty would face opposition if more was known and understood about its substantive provisions.