MED withholds ACTA papers

MED releases just 15% of the documents requested in Official Information Request

The Ministry of Economic Development has released just 13 out of 91 documents relating to its negotiation of a controversial international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) after an official information request.

Consultant Mark Harris made a request for “any and all information” the MED holds on ACTA. In response, MED identified 91 documents falling within the ambit of the request. The department has supplied Harris with just 13 of these and some parts of most of have been withheld.

The disclosure was mostly denied because it is considered likely to “prejudice the entrusting of information to the Government of New Zealand on a basis of confidence by the government of any other country or any agency of such a government.”

As further negotiations on ACTA took place in the US last week, opposition to ACTA continued to grow. InternetNZ and internet service providers have been disquieted by another leaked document showing unnamed lobbyists pushing for strong policing against alleged copyright infringers.

Included are suggestions that copyright owners be given information about infringers “including their identities, means of production and distribution and relevant third parties”, presumably so the owners can pursue further action against them or keep watch on their future activities.

Like earlier news of the international ACTA negotiations, the document was released on the Wikileaks website wikileaks.org (PDF).

One InternetNZ member says the speed and direction of the negotiations should give the ICT industry cause for concern:

“It’s quite impressive how far the [copyright owners’] industry expects to be able to push things,” he says.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage requested public submissions on ACTA earlier this month.

Seventeen submissions were received and these, the Ministry of Economic Development promises, will be summarised on its website as soon as they have been examined by relevant ministers.

The summary had not been posted last week, though InternetNZ has independently released its submission (Computerworld, June 16). This expresses regret that “very little concrete information” is available on steps towards the agreement.

Harris has released his own detailed submission (link).

Among other points, he argues that the proposed regime could overlap with existing New Zealand copyright legislation and confuse principles already established by international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

He says, as currently mooted, the provisions could put too much power in the hands of front-line staff such as customs officers, trespassing on the province of the courts.

As to counterfeiting, “It’s fair to say that New Zealanders, as a whole, do not approve of fakes and fraud.

“Part of our national mythos is straight-talking honesty and fair dealing,” Harris says. ACTA, however, threatens to go beyond policing of counterfeit goods to the entry of genuine goods through “grey-market” channels, Harris says. This could conflict with New Zealand’s permissive laws covering parallel importing.

Harris insists that, despite the MED’s contentions to the contrary, government has attempted to keep ACTA discussions away from the public.

The discussion documents on the MED website did not appear until after the first leak through Wikileaks, he says.

Harris’ information request had been delayed under Section 15A(1)(b) of the Act, because “consultations necessary to make a decision on the request are such that a proper response to the request cannot reasonably be made within the original time limit.”

Harris asked pointedly whom the government feels obliged to consult.

MED’s chief negotiator, George Wardle, was in Washington, DC, at the ACTA discussions last week and uncontactable. A colleague on the team says the submissions summary will not be released at least until Wardle returns tomorrow.

One commentator notes that Wikileaks’ publication of the second document is simultaneous with the US discussions and hence amounts to a rare “zero-day leak”.

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