ACTA - anyone making a fuss in your country?

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Erika Smith
Mexico

So, is anybody up in a huff about ACTA in your country? Nice that at least netcitizen protest (amongst other activism) encouraged it going public. (yay for wikileaks!) In last week´s meeting to discuss the future of the internet in Mexico, the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement was the main topic of conversation – so much so that the panel on policy and internet featured three viewpoints on ACTA, diverting any serious analysis of the new possibilities that internet presents for citizenry, transparency, government, etc.

Speakers at the ISOC Mexico-sponsored event did touch on politicos doing limited campaigning using twitter and facebook, noting that the interactivity of internet seemed to scare them all away – it is one thing to bleat at your prospective voters and yet another to find out they are not sheep and they will pepper you with questions, demands and accusations. The representative from E-Mexico did stress that the initial idea of, “put the machines and they will come” has been replaced by the realisation of deeper definitions of access, some of which were clearly pointed out by Clara Luz Álvarez, who stated that physical access must be accompanied by digital literacy and relevant content – otherwise physical access could not have meaning. (She also stated that guaranteeing access without considering a gender perspective will always result in unequal access – the only gendered comment in the entire panel.)

But the central focus of the politics and internet panel was decidedly on ACTA, and perhaps quite justifiably, since trade agreements signed in Mexico bear the weight of a treaty. Laws and even the Constitution must be tweaked in order to fit treaty demands. It seems that there are diverging views in Mexico on ACTA, with Kiyoshi Tsuru not seeing what all the fuss is about – according to him basically ACTA reiterates existing laws. But intellectual property rights expert León Felipe Sanchez Ambia actually issued a warning to Mexican legislators, “watch out for ACTA and watch over citizens´interests,” especially as the brackets start getting erased. A lawyer known as a staunch IPR defender saying that ACTA teeters the balance inappropriately in favor of IPR and would make internet service providers into their clients´enemies?? Doesn´t sound like ACTA is just reiterating local laws to me. Apparently ISPs could be held responsible and sanctioned for their users actions online – for the content clients upload – forcing ISPs to invade client privacy in an effort to watch their own backs.

Google Mexico rep Manuel Tamez wondered if he´d seen the same treaty as Tsuru.

In fact, he firmly proposed that Mexico NOT sign, offering this clear example of one concern Google has about ACTA: Imagine if the telephone company were responsible for all the conversations that were carried out by phone, and sanctioned for any ilicit activity that took place by any of the callers. To protect itself, the company would have to listen in on phone conversations, a clear violation of existing laws worldwide.

Tamez insisted that ACTA will stifle creativity and attack freedom of expression if passed – how could it not if internet services such as youtube or twitter are held jointly responsible for everything that circulates via their platforms? He pointed out that Mexico is the only Latin American country at the negotiating table and would be well served to explore other types of solutions such as Chilean piracy legislation, before passing ACTA which protects IPR over the right to privacy.

Have to admit that Tamez´point of view blew in some fresh air. What a concept – to not even ENTER into ACTA! Not in the country´s interest, don´t sign. Whoa! That would certainly be an unheard of move, given Mexico´s track record on trade treaty negotiations. Or to sign ONLY if the whole chapter on digital aspects is removed, such as the European parliament is recommending, especially since, Tamez pointed out, the original intent of ACTA was to legislate counterfeiting in the physical – not digital – realm.

ACTA is focussed on counterfeiting, but what of other types of crime? ACTA is especially of interest to me because it can affect the few laws or upcoming bills that attempt to address other aspects of cybercrime, as well. In Mexico, Laneta and Modemmujer are working in collaboration with the APC WNSP on a project regarding violence against women (VAW) and the internet, Take Back the Tech! to end violence against women. It´s been supported by the Dutch government´s MDG3 Fund. Research for the project shows that there are limited options for a woman facing violence via internet, or kids subject to cyberbullying, and that there is limited capability to address the rise of trafficking connected to internet contact.

I asked what legal recourse exists for girls and women who are dealing with violence against women perpetrated or facilitated by ICTs? – when stalkers can pinpoint where women live using google maps and streetview; when identity theft and bank fraud are more of a priority than the trafficking of women, girls and boys via internet; when the little information we have is of increasing cases of child porn and trafficking linked to the internet. Limiting access to services such as twitter will not eliminate the dangers of the internet, and of course informed use and increased capacity-building are vital. I agree that efforts to legislate technology frequently can have unintended negative consequences and stifle innovation, and certainly censorship is not the answer, nor the invasion of privacy – but if existing laws do not address the problem then what is our recourse? I didn´t get an answer.

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