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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » February 23, 2012
Politics & Society
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Gov’t Vs. Internet Users
February 23, 2012   
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Poland has suspended the ratification of an international anti-piracy treaty after massive street protests against online censorship and an unprecedented string of attacks on government websites.

“I have decided to suspend the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA),” Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Feb. 3 at a press conference. He added that public consultations ahead of the decision to sign the treaty had been “incomplete,” adding that a “deeper analysis” of the consequences of the agreement was needed. “The arguments that internet users brought forward about putting ratification on hold are valid,” Tusk said, adding that a public debate and new regulations adapted to the internet age were needed.

Tusk said that the laws now in force in Poland will be examined. “There were moments in history when time-honored property rights had to be revised. Today, we have to decide together with artists that new regulations are needed,” he added.

Tusk asked ministers to draft a set of regulations within weeks to provide internet users with a sense of security in connection with ACTA. Among the ministers working on the bill are those responsible for foreign affairs, culture, and administration and digitization.

The ACTA treaty has already been signed by Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. European Union countries are now supposed to follow suit. EU leaders decided Dec. 16 that member states should sign the agreement. The treaty was signed Jan. 26 in Tokyo by Poland’s ambassador to Japan.

Around half a million Polish internet users voiced their opposition to the country signing the ACTA treaty. More than 10 sites were created on Facebook to protest against signing the agreement. The protest quickly moved from online to outdoors. Opponents staged demonstrations in the largest Polish cities. Tens of thousands of young people, wearing Guy Fawkes masks known from the V for Vendetta comic book and its 2006 film adaptation, protested in front of parliament, the prime minister’s office and at other sites. Internet users also blocked a string of government websites, including those of the Polish parliament, prime minister and the culture minister. Activists associated with the Anonymous network of hackers were behind this campaign, which also exposed the low level of security surrounding the websites of some of the country’s most prominent politicians—the passwords were easy to crack even for a child with some knowledge of computers, let alone experienced hackers.

To become EU law, ACTA has to be ratified by the European Parliament and some national parliaments, including in Poland. But given the strong opposition to the move, this is highly unlikely to happen any time soon. Even the EU deputies who previously supported ACTA now say that the agreement involves too many risks to civil liberties to be approved in its existing form.

ACTA is a trade agreement whose signatories are obliged to counteract violations of intellectual property rights and crack down on trade in counterfeit goods. Those who oppose it say ACTA may be exploited to censor the internet. One of the most controversial provisions is the one stating that internet providers are required to transfer to the intellectual property rights holder the personal data of a web user if it is suspected that his or her account has been used to violate trademark rights, copyrights and related rights. Meanwhile, copyright holders strongly support ACTA, seeing it an instrument promising more effective law enforcement.

Polish President Bronisław Komorowski said he was waiting for the ombudsman’s opinion about the treaty. The president’s aides added that if the ombudsman finds that ACTA poses any threat to civil liberties, the president will not sign the treaty into law even if it is ratified by parliament.

The opposition used the row around the treaty to launch an attack on the government, criticizing it for incompetence. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Law and Justice (PiS), said his party would soon file a motion for a referendum on what he described as an “extremely controversial international agreement.” Kaczyński said that the agreement was aimed at safeguarding the interests of “oligarchs and multinational corporations” while undermining freedom on the internet.

Michał Boni, Poland’s administration and digitization minister, said the government’s intention was not to restrict internet freedom. He added that the latter was particularly important to young people, hence their strong response to the signing of ACTA.

Boni added that regulations concerning the internet make up only a small portion of ACTA and argued that the agreement will help protect Polish products, patents and intellectual property.
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