Monthly Archives: June 2012
By Rick Falkvinge
The ACTA treaty is coming to its showdown two and a half weeks from today. The vote on the floor of the European Parliament is where the treaty lives or dies. But the next important event takes place as early as this Thursday. For reasons I wrote on TorrentFreak in my last article, ACTA lives or dies globally with the vote in the European Parliament. Therefore, that’s where all our energy should be directed to preserve the liberties of the net and ourselves. It is true that there are other horrific backroom deals in the process – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, notably – but a visible defeat of ACTA due to public outrage will be sure to have effects on TPP, as well as on all other attempts to legislate some middlemen’s right to profit at the expense of our civil liberties. The opposite also holds true: if ACTA passes in the European Parliament despite us having held rallies across pretty much all of Europe, the damage to democracy, to the net, and to our civil liberties is going to take two decades to repair. Such a defeat would be a concession that the European Parliament is not an elected body of representatives, but a doormat for so-called “corporate stakeholders” – the monopolists of yesterday who are threatened by our next generation of entrepreneurs at every level. So this is it. Man your barricades. The ACTA approval or rejection process in the European Parliament consists of a so-called “responsible committee” recommending the European Parliament as a whole to accept or reject the treaty. All proposals have such a responsible committee. In the case of ACTA, the committee is “International Trade”, known by its abbreviation, INTA. But before INTA makes its recommendation to accept or reject, four other committees have left recommendations to INTA from their own respective point of view, and INTA is expected (but not required) to weigh their recommendations into INTA’s final recommendation to European Parliament. The four other committees are Industry (ITRE), Development (DEVE), Legal Affairs (JURI), and Civil Liberties (LIBE). All four of them have voted to recommend INTA to recommend a rejection in turn (yes, the roll of red tape is quite long). Meanwhile, the proposed decision on INTA’s table is to recommend a rejection of ACTA, but the corporate monopoly interests are fighting harder by the hour to change this into an adoption. Therefore, we must fight, too. INTA makes its decision this Thursday – on June 21, around 10:00 Brussels time. This recommendation will weigh very heavily on Parliament’s final vote. In this game, the proponents of ACTA are currently trying to get the vote postponed, seeing that public opinion is currently horribly against it. (This is politics as usual – it’s pretty much like the ACTA opponents were trying to stall a vote before the public had woken up to what was going on.) This game is far from over – party lines in the European Parliament can and do shift at the last minute, and the individual voting Members of the European Parliament are not bound to toe those party lines anyway. So some people are trying to push for an outright adoption of ACTA by the European Parliament. The person leading that ratification effort in INTA is the Swedish Christofer Fjellner, who has tabled an amendment to INTA’s meeting – an amendment to change the decision to recommend European Parliament to accept ACTA. Some important people have also invited themselves to INTA’s meeting in order to sway the vote. The public can’t do that, of course. But we can contact the Members of European Parliament before the meeting – and that’s exactly what we need to do. To make that easier, I have set up a mailing list at email@example.com that goes to all the MEPs on the INTA committee. If you want inspiration of what to send, I have a sample letter over at my own blog. Above all, remember to be courteous as a citizen voicing your concern, and being clear that you urge them to vote for a rejection. (You don’t need to live in Europe to do this – ACTA is a global concern.) For those on the outside of Parliament, the institution seems like an impenetrable fortress. Once you get on the inside, though, you realize that citizens’ voices are heard very clearly. It’s our job to make that happen between now and the final vote on the floor on the European Parliament on July 3. Send a mail to INTA right now, and then, let’s build an overall showdown campaign between the INTA vote on June 21 and Parliament’s vote on July 3, spanning all the major tech sites, to make sure the citizen outcry becomes the stuff of legend for decades to come in the European Parliament.
The government today published a draft version of a bill that, if signed into law in its current form, would force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile phone network providers in Britain to install ‘black boxes’ in order to collect and store information on everyone’s internet and phone activity, and give the police the ability to self-authorise access to this information. However, the Home Office failed to explain whether or not companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter will be brought under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), and how they intend to deal with HTTPS encryption.
Faith in the integrity of HTTPS encryption is what makes online banking and the entire e-commerce industry possible, and Google uses it to secure its Gmail service, as do most webmail providers. The need for easy access to Gmail has been one of the Home Office’s primary justifications for the Communications Bill, but technology experts are dubious as to whether it is possible to technically and lawfully break HTTPS on a nationwide scale. At this morning’s Home Office briefing, Director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism Charles Farr was asked about how the black box technology would handle HTTPS encryption. His only response was: “It will.”
At a press and MP briefing at Parliament today, Julian Huppert MP said that he couldn’t believe the bill could even be put before the House in its current form. David Davis MP remarked that, given that the RIPA process is already “a disgrace”, the Home Office should be introducing a bill that introduces warrant requirements to RIPA rather than making it even easier for the police to access citizens’ communications data. He also revealed that David Maclean, “the most right-wing politician the Home Office ever saw”, will be chairing the committee on the bill.
Dr Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International, said: “In the UK, we’ve historically operated under the presumption that the government has no business peering into the lives of citizens unless there is good reason to – that people are innocent until proven guilty. This legislation would reverse that presumption and fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state, and their relationship with their internet and mobile service providers. Yet there are still big question marks over whether Facebook and Google will be brought under RIPA, and how far the government is willing to go in undermining internet security in order to fulfil its insatiable desire for data.”