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Why CETA is bad for Canadian Internet Users

As many of you know big media lobbyists have lost several battles to impose severe Internet restrictions at the national level in bill C-11 here in Canada, and in SOPA/PIPA in the US. You also may know they are increasingly looking to impose these restrictions through secretive International trade agreements that route around our democratic processes and blanket these restrictions on many countries at once. One such agreement was the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which recently saw a major setback in the EU. Another trade agreement acting as a vehicle for Internet censorship, and one that looks to be the front line in the fight for Internet freedom is one we’ve raised the alarm about: the TPP Internet Trap trade agreement. But alas, there’s another undemocratic trade agreement for the Internet community to worry about called the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA).

There has been uproar in Europe over the last few weeks over a leaked portion of CETA which suggests that some of the worst Internet restriction provisions of ACTA are being reproduced word for word in the new CETA agreement. The European Commission initially declined to respond fully to the leaked document, instead tweeting its reassurances. But the public outcry and media attention it has received has prompted a more comprehensive response. Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist has written about the European reaction, and what the implications are for Canadians.

What is CETA?

The Canada - EU Trade Agreement is a wide-ranging trade agreement that covers most sectors of the economy, including the Internet. According to the leaked document, dated February 2012, the intellectual property chapter draws heavily from the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement- the highly unpopular agreement which was widely protested against and voted down by the European Parliament earlier this month due to the restrictions on Internet use it would have imposed.

In an interview Geist noted that keeping the same language “may have seemed like a good idea in February, by July it became enormously problematic since the Parliament had rejected ACTA and the inclusion of the same language within CETA appeared to be a direct challenge to the Parliament”. Possibly as a result of this, the European Commission issued a response in which it claimed that some of the controversial provisions had been changed, but as you’ll see from our summary of Geist below, this claim is not good enough.

What’s wrong with CETA?

1. The European Commission says that it has removed from CETA the controversial ACTA provisions which risk user privacy by forcing Internet service providers to disclose the identity of alleged copyright infringers. However problems with an ACTA approach go beyond these provisions and include expansive digital lock provisions which would give big media conglomerates more power to control our use of media and the Internet.

2. The ACTA approach employs criminal penalties including imprisonment and high monetary fines for accused “infringers”. In other words this agreement is very similar to the TPP’s Internet trap that we’ve been campaigning against at, but it would apply this scheme to the EU which is not presently a part of the TPP.

3. As an alternative to an ACTA approach, the European Commission appears to now favour the approach taken in a previous EU-Korea trade agreement that is itself problematic. The EU-Korea style ISP provision would permit the use of website blocking and three-strikes systems for terminating the Internet access of accused content infringers, and possibly the removal of content without a court order. These are all provisions that go beyond current Canadian law.

4. The EU-Korea style agreement the European Commission is currently pushing would have a much broader scope than ACTA, would give extended rights to broadcasters and would implement stronger border measures including searches of alleged infringers. This will make it easier for media conglomerates to shut down online content and limit our choice online.

5. CETA, ACTA, and the EU-Korea agreement have all been negotiated with high levels of secrecy, creating public distrust.

So it seems that an EU-Canadian agreement will either involve a more extreme version of ACTA, or an equally problematic version of the EU-Korea agreement (which Canadian policymakers never wanted).

These extreme and secretive trade agreements are starting to seem a lot like whac-a-mole: you knock one down and the same provisions appear in a different agreement. But as Geist notes, “[w]ith the public now very focused on ACTA and one-sided [intellectual property] agreements, I think it will be very difficult to sneak ACTA through the CETA backdoor”. That’s why it’s so important for Canadians to stay vigilant to new challenges posed to our online freedoms, and to make our voices heard.

OpenMedia will keep a close eye on this file and report back as it develops.