Britain Needs a Wake up Call: Acta is the Big Brother of Sopa - Analyst
Image Credit: Act Against Acta

Security expert Rik Ferguson has told IBTimes UK that Acta, the controversial agreement to crack down on counterfeiting, is a very real threat to Britain's online freedoms.

Ferguson, director of Security Research & Communication EMEA Trend Micro, warned: "Acta is in all senses the big brother of Sopa."

While demonstrations have erupted in other countries - such as Poland where thousands took to the streets to protest against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement - Britain has been remarkably free of protests, a fact that left Fergusonbaffled. "Why aren't the Brits up in arms about it? I really honestly have no idea," he said.

Closed-Door Policy-Making

Ferguson attacked the closed-door policy of by legislators in Acta's development. "Acta is proposed as a global 'agreement' which has been negotiated in closed shops with only one side of the debate having been represented and no jurisdictional or democratic oversight, " said Ferguson.

"The closed shop appears to have been cynically and deliberately set up outside of existing structures such as the WTO [World Trade Organisation] perhaps to protect vested interests of large corporations and a subset, in fact a tiny minority, of governments."

The comments refer to the lack of solid information on Acta, with the final draft of the agreement - which is reportedly very different from the original version - yet to be formerly released.

Censoring the Internet: An End to Innovation

Additionally, lending credence to protesters' fears, Ferguson indicated a belief that the agreement would grant authorities and corporations the power to censor the internet. Specifically, he suggested Acta would make it possible for the establishment to remove sites from search results for crimes perpetrated by users rather than the site itself.

"The concerns with Acta centre mostly around how the bill enforces liability on website for any links that point to disputed content. In the world of user-generated content [UGC], the potential for any site to be forced to close down, in a Stalinesque way to become a 'non-site' as it is obliterated from search results or even have its domain name seized, all as a result of the actions of its users, is seen as too great a threat to business online," said Ferguson.

"Under Acta, ISPs will become accountable for the actions of their subscribers and as such will have no option but to monitor the content that is being both posted and accessed by their customers."

Ferguson indicated his belief that should Acta be passed, it would kill innovation online and invade users' privacy. Specifically, Ferguson suggested that in order to enforce Acta governments would have to install draconian policies that monitor what content was linked to on each website.

"The only space left for innovation and collaboration in an Acta world is for Acta compliance solutions that continually monitor your web properties for infringements (thereby monitoring also the content of any linked site as well) and remove any offending UGC promptly.

"This represents a gross invasion of privacy and under much of the Western world's communications intercept laws is already currently at least a legal grey area, if not outright illegal. Under Acta that same (as in Sopa) issue of sites that 'link' to copyrighted content surfaces again with websites facing similar risks and similar levels of accountability."

Replacing Not Solving the Piracy Problem

Finally, in closing Ferguson reported that the policies represented a profound lack of understanding by policymakers about how the internet works and would not fix the piracy problem.

"The internet is not intellectual property, the internet is the crucible of modern innovation and in large part generated by 'we the people,'" said Ferguson. "US law, and many others besides, classify copyright as the right to revenue from the copying of original work in a fixed medium. The internet has surpassed this concept.

"Security is a much deeper concept. Security is my right to access and use the global resources available to me, unimpeded by the legal ramifications of the actions of other internet users. Legislation such as Acta and Sopa would make this impossible. The mantra of online innovation should be adapt and survive, the mantra of rights holders is to often 'entrench and resist.'"

Britain signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement on 26 January in Tokyo alongside several other member states including Poland. The final decision regarding whether Acta will become EU law will rest with the European Parliament, which is set to vote on Acta in June.