Euro Parliament snubs ACTA anti-piracy treaty

The secretive global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement - ACTA, for short - has come under fire from the European Parliament, after 377 MEPs yesterday voted to adopt a written declaration demanding greater transparency and stating that ISPs should not be made liable for the data that's sent over their networks.

Written Declaration 12 says that ACTA "should not force limitations upon judicial due process or weaken fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and the right to privacy".

Declarations of this sort have no binding legal weight. Any MEP has the right to issue one, and it can be officially adopted by the parliament if the majority of MEPs sign up to it.

Once adopted, declarations are posted on the Internet, as well as on boards at the parliament's twin meeting places in Strasbourg and Brussels. They are also handed on to the European Commission.

But while the declaration can do nothing to force the ACTA negotiators to consider the European Parliament's suggestions, it will provide them with an indication of EU legislators' feelings on the matter - and issue a much-needed reminder that someone has an eye on the notoriously secretive negotiations.

A vote of consent by the European Parliament will be necessary for ACTA to pass into EU law.

Recent leaks suggest that concerns such as ISP liability may already have been addressed - but critics fear that the executive agreement may still be used to sneak objectionable restrictions lobbied for by big business in by the back door.

French civil liberties group La Quadrature du Net, which backed the declaration, has said that the European Parliament's vote may spell the end for ACTA.

"Written Declaration 12 is a strong political signal sent by the EP to the Commission that ACTA is not tolerable as a way of bypassing democratic processes. Legislation related to Internet, freedom of speech and privacy cannot be negotiated in secrecy under the direct influence of entertainment industry lobbies," said the group's spokesperson Jérémie Zimmermann. "Full rejection of ACTA is the only option."