Michael Geist, The Toronto Star
Jun 09, 2008
Last week, Canadian negotiators huddled with representatives from the United States, Europe and Japan at the U.S. Mission in Geneva to negotiate the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
The ACTA, shrouded in secrecy until a leaked summary of the agreement appeared on the Internet last month, has sparked widespread opposition as Canadians worry about the prospect of a trade deal that could lead to invasive searches of personal computers and increased surveillance of online activities.
While documents obtained under the Access to Information Act reveal internal ACTA discussions as early as 2006, the trade negotiations only came to the Canadian public’s attention last fall when International Trade Minister David Emerson revealed the government’s intention to participate in the negotiations.
Since the announcement, the Canadian government has been among the most secretive of all ACTA negotiating partners. The Department of Foreign Affairs conducted a public consultation on the treaty in April; however, the government revealed little about either the timing or substance of the agreement. By comparison, Australia launched a public consultation on the treaty before committing to participate in the ACTA talks.
Fears about the ACTA have spilled into the political arena as NDP MP Charlie Angus last week voiced concerns about its effects during Question Period in the House of Commons and Toronto-area Liberal MP Bob Rae blogged that it “augurs a ridiculously intrusive national and international apparatus to police practices that are as common as eating and breathing.”
With another round of talks set for next month in Japan, the government should use the opportunity to pressure its trading partners to lift the veil of ACTA secrecy. Trade negotiators may prefer to remain outside of the spotlight, yet greater transparency is desperately needed.
Public disclosure of the draft documents might put an end to fears about iPod-searching border guards by clarifying the true intent of the treaty. Moreover, it could focus attention on other key concerns, including greater Internet service provider filtering of content, heightened liability for websites that link to allegedly infringing content and diminished privacy for Internet users.