Groups complain of continued ACTA secrecy

Details of treaty involving New Zealand remain under wraps

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) continues to withhold important details about a closely held copyright enforcement trade agreement involving New Zealand, despite promises from US President Barack Obama to release more information, two digital rights groups say.

USTR released 36 pages about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on April 30, but there are still more than 1,000 pages on the antipiracy agreement being withheld, digital rights groups Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) say.

ACTA, being negotiated among the US and several other countries in secret, could require countries agreeing to the pact to enforce each other’s copyright laws, according to a summary released in early April.

“We are very disappointed with the USTR’s decision to continue to withhold these documents,” EFF senior counsel David Sobel said in a statement. “The president promised an open and transparent administration. But in this case and others we are litigating at EFF, we’ve found that the [president’s] new guidelines liberalising implementation of the Freedom of Information Act haven’t changed a thing.”

ACTA could have a huge impact on US residents’ privacy and on innovative new technologies, the groups said.

One of the documents released suggests that treaty negotiators are looking at regulating the internet, the groups said. The document lists as a copyright enforcement challenge “the speed and ease of digital reproductions” and “the growing importance of the Internet as a means of distribution”.

The two groups filed a lawsuit against USTR in September, complaining that the agency had largely ignored their Freedom of Information Act request to disclose details of the trade pact, which has been negotiated among the US, New Zealand, Japan, the European Union and other countries since 2006.

USTR initially released 159 pages about ACTA, but denied access to 1,300 other pages, saying that information was withheld for reasons of national security or to protect the USTR’s deliberative process.

After continued pressure from the two groups and Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), an intellectual-property research organisation, the USTR promised in March to review the transparency of its trade negotiations. Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder also reiterated Obama’s promises for a more transparent government.

USTR released a six-page summary of ACTA in early April and 36 more pages later that month.

“What we’ve seen tends to confirm that the substance of ACTA remains a grave concern,” Public Knowledge staff attorney Sherwin Siy said in a statement. “The agreement increasingly looks like an attempt by Hollywood and the content industries to perform an end-run around national legislatures and public international forums to advance an aggressive, radical change in the way that copyright and trademark laws are enforced.”

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