'Property enforcement treaty' being questioned

WASHINGTON — A pair of public interest groups have filed suit against the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to force disclosure of details about a “secret intellectual property enforcement treaty” that the Bush administration is currently negotiating with numerous countries.

Based on a leaked document about the negotiations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge allege that the treaty — the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement — could significantly harm consumers.

“ACTA raises serious concerns for citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights,” EFF international policy director Gwen Hinze said in a statement. “This treaty could potentially change the way your computer is searched at the border or spark new invasive monitoring from your ISP. People need to see the full text of ACTA now so that they can evaluate its impact on their lives and express that opinion to their political leaders. Instead, the USTR is keeping us in the dark while talks go on behind closed doors.”

The suit follows alleged inaction on a Freedom of Information Act request for ACTA documents that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge filed with the USTR earlier this year.

“The lack of transparency in this process is incredibly alarming,” Public Knowledge staff attorney Sherwin Siy said. “Whatever form ACTA eventually takes, we can be sure it will be used to justify further international agreements and laws. The agreement text needs to be made public to ensure that it doesn’t encroach upon the rights of users, consumers and citizens to access knowledge, information and content.”

“We have engaged in extensive public consultation regarding the ACTA, including issuing two federal register notices, the most recent of which announces a public meeting that will be held on Monday,” said USTR spokesman Scott Elmore.

“USTR is aware of the FOIA request submitted by Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge,” Elmore continued. “It is one of nine intellectual property rights-related FOIA requests submitted during the month of June 2008. USTR has been working diligently to answer all of the requests.”

“It is unfortunate that these groups are using scare tactics and false information to try to derail the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement,” said Angela Martinez, spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which supports the negotiations. “This agreement is an ambitious undertaking among governments that share the view that intellectual property protections are integral to the vitality of the creative industries and the global economy.”

Countries involved in the ACTA negotiations are the U.S., Canada, the European Community, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

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