ACTA Plan to Destroy Citizens’ Property Without Warrants is Illegal Says EU Official

Details of the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) leaked in 2008.  The multi-national agreement brokered by the U.S. government at the behest of the music and film industries looks to adopt sweeping new anti-piracy measures that include warrantless searches of citizens and destruction of devices containing potentially pirated works.

Even as groups like the ACLU, WikiLeaks, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have fought the pact, the government has moved ahead to implement it.  However, the agreement has gained perhaps its most prominent critic yet, Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor.

Mr. Hustinx serves as a privacy chief for the EU and he found the provisions of ACTA alarming.  He authored an opinion paper [PDF] on several topics, including ACTA.  In the piece he writes that there’s concern that ACTA may be violating the legal rights of citizens in multiple nations.  

He argues, “The EDPS strongly encourages the European Commission to establish a public and transparent dialogue on ACTA, possibly by means of a public consultation, which would also help ensuring that the measures to be adopted are compliant with EU privacy and data protection law requirements.”

He also questions the pact’s plans to share data about citizens between nations.  He writes:

It can be questioned first whether data transfers to third countries in the context of ACTA are legitimate. The relevance of adopting measures at international level in that field can be questioned as long as there is no agreement within the EU member states over the harmonisation of enforcement measures in the digital environment and the types of criminal sanctions to be applied. In view of the above, it appears that the principles of necessity and proportionality of the data transfers under ACTA would be more easily met if the agreement was expressly limited to fighting the most serious IPR infringement offences, instead of allowing for bulk data transfers relating to any suspicions of IPR infringements. This will require defining precisely the scope of what constitutes the ‘most serious IPR infringement offences’ for which data transfers may occur.

ACTA would allow the U.S. and other nations to search citizens at border crossings for suspected infringed materials.  Border agents would have authorization to destroy citizens’ personal property, such as iPods, if they suspect it to contain infringed works.  The agreement also calls for the proactive monitoring of citizens online by law enforcement.

He also takes issue with “three strikes” proposals, such as the pending legislation in EU member nations Britain and France, which could sever the internet connections of filesharers.

He comments, “Such practices are highly invasive in the individuals’ private sphere. They entail the generalized monitoring of Internet users’ activities, including perfectly lawful ones. They affect millions of law-abiding Internet users, including many children and adolescents. They are carried out by private parties, not by law enforcement authorities. Moreover, nowadays, Internet plays a central role in almost all aspects of modern life, thus, the effects of disconnecting Internet access may be enormous, cutting individuals off from work, culture, eGoverment applications, etc.”

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