Four members of the European Parliament have launched a public protest against the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), registering their discontent with secret negotiations undertaken by the European Union, the US and other leading countries since 2007.
Only a select number of European Commission (EC) members have been involved in negotiating ACTA, but leaked documents show that the trade agreement contains controversial proposals for disconnecting illegal downloaders from the internet.
The final terms of ACTA are due to be agreed this year. The European Parliament has asked the EC for access to the secret documents before, but its requests have always been denied.
The four MEPs that have formed the '12/2010 against ACTA' declaration argue that the openness of the internet should be preserved, and that ACTA could severely harm freedom of expression, net neutrality and the right to a fair trial.
The MEPs are French socialist Françoise Castex, German liberal Alexander Alvaro, Greek socialist Stavros Lambrinidis, and the Czech Christian Democrat Zuzana Roithová.
The declaration was accepted by the European Presidency two weeks ago and will be open for all MEPs to sign after a translation period.
The four MEPs have been joined by digital rights groups across Europe in calls for citizens to get in touch with their MEP to urge them to sign the written declaration.
Digital rights groups, trade unions and other non-governmental organisations have previously argued for the ACTA negotiations to be made more transparent, but their voices have so far been ignored. The inclusion of MEPs in the protest is likely to add more weight to the cause.
The written declaration defines boundaries that should not be crossed by ACTA negotiators, emphasising that internet service providers should not be made liable for actions undertaken by their users or be compelled to monitor and filter their networks.
The text is in line with recent warnings from the European Data Protection Supervisor, which said that ACTA threatened data privacy.
"The adoption of the written declaration will send a strong message to the Commission and Member States that the European Parliament will not let EU citizens' freedoms be undermined by opaque diplomatic negotiations," said Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net.
"Every citizen and non-governmental organisation concerned about ACTA can participate by calling MEPs and urging them to sign the declaration."
Meanwhile Jim Killock, executive director for the UK Open Rights Group, insisted that ACTA needs to be made transparent in order to determine whether consumer rights are under threat.
"The European Parliament should have been involved in the negotiations," he said. "I suggest UK citizens get in contact with their MEPs to discuss the issue."
However, the ACTA clause relating to internet disconnection is likely to be less significant to UK citizens as the government's Digital Economy Bill proposes similar 'three strikes' laws that would see repeat illegal file-sharers cut off the internet. A new amendment to the Bill may also see certain web sites outlawed.
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