ACTA Will Not Undermine Individuals' Rights, Says EU Commission

The European Commission has pledged to defend EU nations' rights to decide how to deal with online copyright infringement, saying that it will not allow a secret global treaty to erode nations' powers.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a secret treaty being negotiated by the US, Japan and the European Commission, as well as other countries from around the world. It has been the subject of controversy because of the secrecy surrounding it and because of some of its alleged content.

Last week EU privacy watchdog the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warned that it threatened to undermine people's rights to privacy and personal data protection.

The European Commission is acting on behalf of its 27 member states in the treaty negotiations. A spokesman for trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, has said that the Commission will not allow the treaty to overrule existing EU law.

"We are not supporting and will not accept that an eventual Acta agreement creates an obligation to disconnect people from the internet because of illegal downloads," John Clancy, De Gucht's spokesman, told ZDNet UK.

The secrecy surrounding negotiations means that it is unclear what is being proposed by ACTA, but leaked documents have suggested that the US is lobbying for the treaty to include demands that countries terminate any internet connection used by alleged file-sharers.

The UK plans to introduce connection suspension as part of the Digital Economy Bill which is currently going through Parliament.

"The 'three-strike rule' or graduated response systems are not compulsory in Europe. Different EU countries have different approaches, and we want to keep this flexibility," said Clancy.

EDPS Peter Hustinx, who supervises EU institutions' compliance with data protection laws and advises them on policy, warned last week that ACTA could trample on individuals' rights because some of the anti-infringement actions depended on monitoring their use of the internet.

"Whereas intellectual property is important to society and must be protected, it should not be placed above individuals' fundamental rights to privacy and data protection," he said. "A right balance between protection of intellectual property rights and the right to privacy and data protection should be ensured. It is also particularly crucial that data protection requirements are taken into account from the very beginning of the negotiations so as not later on having to find alternative privacy compliant solutions."

Clancy told ZDNet UK that the Commission would not allow ACTA to undermine long-standing EU laws and citizens' rights.

"When we say that any future Acta agreement must respect existing European and national legislation, we mean exactly that," he said. "There will be no watering-down of the existing rights and protection afforded to our citizens."

"The EU already has very stringent laws that defend individuals' civil liberties and personal data protection. They have to be respected, they cannot be overruled or ignored by this international treaty," he said.