In the US, over 35,000 people have signed a petition urging the White House to “end ACTA,” despite the fact that it has already been signed by the US. Much of the misinformation seems to come from the fact that the final text proved to be much less dangerous to Internet freedom than early drafts had suggested. Any number of controversial proposals were included, or rumored to be included, in early drafts of the treaty. But thanks in part to an intense public backlash, most of these provisions were stripped out, or at least watered down, in the final version of ACTA. That final version has been publicly available for months, but many ACTA opponents continue to focus on these deleted provisions in their arguments against the treaty.
Claim: “ACTA gives [ISPs] the power—or more accurately forces them—to monitor all your packets, all the time.”
Reality: This is the most-repeated claim, and it’s simply inaccurate. Nothing in the treaty appears to require ISPs to monitor their customers’ traffic. While earlier versions of the treaty had proposed French-style “three strikes” measures, these proposals were dropped from the final version of the treaty.
Claim: ACTA “obliges its signatories to take on many of the worst features of SOPA and PIPA.” It’s “the European version of the US SOPA and PIPA rolled into one and cranked up to 11.”
Reality: The provisions of SOPA and PIPA that generated the most outrage were those that would have blacklisted sites from DNS, search engines, payment networks, and ad networks. None of these proposals were included in ACTA. Perhaps this is a reference to the provisions requiring signatories to “promote cooperative efforts within the business community,” but as we’ve seen, there are any number of ways to comply with this requirement that are less draconian than the SOPA provisions that generated so much controversy.
None of this is to say ACTA is positive. It isn’t. It has both procedural and substantive problems—and critics need to attack it on the right grounds. If Congress ever decides that IP rights have swung too far in one direction, it can always rebalance them by changing the law, right? Not exactly. International agreements like ACTA bind the hands of legislators unless the US is willing to withdraw from them first. That’s why Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) last week called ACTA ”more dangerous than SOPA.” He added, “It’s not coming to me for a vote. It purports that it does not change existing laws. But once implemented, it creates a whole new enforcement system and will virtually tie the hands of Congress to undo it.”
Unfortunately, these arguments are hard to explain to the general public. So too many ACTA opponents are, perhaps unknowingly, attacking ACTA for provisions that aren’t in the treaty. We’re not going to shed too many tears if this misinformation helps to kill a bad treaty, but we’d rather win the debate honestly—and prepare people for the upcoming ACTA sequel.