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Europe

Internet activists wonder what will follow ACTA

Hundreds of thousands of Europeans successfully protested against ACTA online and on the streets. Now they may need to fend off a possible successor.

"We all stopped ACTA together," the "Digitale Gesellschaft" (Digital Society) group wrote on its website. The Internet lobby built around online activist Markus Beckedahl, who also heads the widely read German blog "Netzpolitik.org," saw the failure of ACTA as a victory after having spent months organizing protests against the anti-piracy agreement. The European Parliament voted against the deal in early July.

Many of the protesters who took action against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) are now being called upon as messages circulate in blogs, online forums and social networks about a successor to the act that could create guidelines and rules to protect copyrights and patents as well as public security. Critics have said that such rules could endanger a free Internet and represent privacy violations.

Taking aim at INDECT

hMarkus Beckedahl

Internet activist Markus Beckedahl saw the failure of ACTA

Netzpolitik.org and others have taken aim at the INDECT research project on citizens' security conducted with 11 million euros ($13.5 million) of funding from the European Union. Protesters have stared an online campaign against INDECT and staged initial protests, which took place Saturday (28.07.2012), in Germany, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic and France.

INDECT, short for "INtelligent information system supporting observation, searching and DEteCTion for security of citizens in urban environment," aims to prevent mass panic as well as terrorism and other crimes by using video cameras and biometric data, including facial recognition, and potentially airborne drones to watch over public spaces for suspicious behavior. Launched in 2009, the project is slated to last five years.

The algorithms and technology behind the project would recognize suspicious people, record their actions and, if requested, provide the collected data to security services as a means of threat prevention.

"Let's not watch our fundamental rights be taken away," one person said in a YouTube video from the self-described group of hactivists Anonymous. "Let's demonstrate against INDECT in the same way we did against ACTA at the beginning of the year."

Greater transparency

In response, Marco Malacarne, head of the security research and development unit in Enterprise and Industry section of the European Commission, has used YouTube to call for discussion on an online platform and promised greater transparency moving forward.

Alex Wilks talks

Alex Wilks circulated petitions against ACTA

The joint Canadian-European Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), which has been negotiated behind closed doors since 2009, is believed to have more in common with ACTA than with INDECT. But no one can say exactly how much.

In February 2012, Canadian legal scholar Michael Geist said he had discovered entire sections of the ACTA agreement in CETA. German legal copyright expert Leonhard Dobusch of Berlin's Freie Universität claimed, however, that CETA devotes only one chapter to intellectual property rights. "The topic there, for instance, is monitoring Internet usage and publishing user data in the case of copyright infringement," he said.

The European Commission is still negotiating the CETA agreement. A reaction to the widespread suspicion that CETA is just another name for ACTA came via EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht. The commissioner, who was also largely responsible for ACTA, denied in a Tweet any links between CETA and ACTA.

Enforcing intellectual property rights

In addition to the defeated ACTA, the EU Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive (IPRED) also aims to enforce intellectual property rights. The directive, currently in effect, was scheduled to be evaluated and revised in 2012. But that process is now expected to run through 2013, in part because ACTA protests prompted EU parliamentarians to give the issue more thought, according to Dobusch.

Fiber optic cable

Some service providers are already reducing transmission speeds

IPRED has a narrower focus than CETA, which also deals with material goods beyond intellectual property, according to Dobusch. "IPRED commits EU member states to introduce rules and processes that ensure the protection of intellectual property," he said.

Before a revised version of IPRED can be introduced, however, a report is to provide details about the status of online rights about the current policy.

The Internet, as an inherently international network, poses new questions and problems for users and copyright experts alike.

"If lawyers can't agree what is illegal in the Net, how should simple users know?" asked Dobusch. As a possible solution for the future, the expert sees the Europeanization of copyrights with European collection societies for the various copyright protected contents.

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