How I will vote on Acta today
You will surely recall the controversy about the Acta agreement earlier this year. Acta is an international agreement on the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. But it raised concerns that it would pose unacceptable restrictions on your freedom to use the internet.
A vote in the European Parliament on Acta will be taken today.
When the controversy first erupted, I looked into this issue and, in an article that I wrote in this column in February, I stated that I was, in principle, in favour of an international agreement that is intended to fight against counterfeiting and piracy.
However, I acknowledged that Acta raised concerns on internet freedom. For this reason, I had stated already back then that, if these concerns proved to be valid, I would have no hesitation in voting against the agreement.
In this article I will explain how I will vote on Acta today and why.
First of all, a reminder of why international cooperation is needed to fight counterfeiting and piracy, which is the main objective of Acta.
The European Union is one of the most innovative economies in the world and we rely heavily on the results of research, creativity, innovation and quality in what we create. With countries such as India, China and Brazil taking over the world’s economy, innovation gives us a cutting edge and enables us to remain economically relevant. The benefits of this do not only fall on the industries or on the millions of employees who work in them but on European society as a whole.
Yet, Europe’s innovation capability is under constant attack from piracy and counterfeiting. This leads to a loss of economic activity and a loss in jobs in Europe. This is why, at face value, it makes sense to have an international agreement like Acta.
So where does the threat to internet freedom come in?
The main argument against Acta is that, in its bid to fight piracy, the agreement uses vague wording that may be interpreted as allowing the authorities and internet service providers to interfere in an individual’s private use of the internet. To be more specific, this is about whether you can continue to download or even share films, music and other stuff without paying for them. You know that you should not do it but you do it because no one can see you in the privacy of your home.
So Acta presented a conflict between the benefits of the fight against piracy and your freedom to use the internet. That is what it boils down to.
Over the past months, I did not sleep over this. I have closely followed and participated in the Acta debate in the European Parliament. I attended all the committee meetings and public hearings in Parliament that discussed Acta in all its aspects. I have also replied to over 1,000 e-mails, mostly from opponents of this agreement.
I focused mostly on whether the concerns raised about Acta were justified. This aspect was handled by my committee in the European Parliament, the Civil Liberties Committee which, among others, sought the opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor. In his opinion, the EDPS concluded that Acta can indeed give rise to problems due to ambiguities in the agreement, which can be abused, and also due to the lack of sufficient safeguards.
However, this opinion falls short of saying that Acta actually breaches European law or fundamental rights.
At the same time, the European Commission went one step further and sought the opinion of the European Court of Justice asking it to rule on whether the agreement is compatible with human rights.
On the basis of the above, I have come to the conclusion that Acta does indeed raise concerns on internet freedom that should be addressed before I can support it. And, once problems have been identified, I think that they should be addressed. I believe that this should be done by fixing the agreement rather than throwing it all away.
Unfortunately, however, political pressure has been brought to bear so that the European Parliament rushes to vote on Acta today, before the Court has been able to deliver its judgement and before the European Commission has been given the chance to fix the problems identified in Acta. In other words, we will be asked to accept the agreement as it is with its current flaws or reject it in its entirety.
This is not an ideal choice.
So, today, there are likely to be two votes taken in the European Parliament. At least, this is the information I have at the time of writing.
We shall first be asked whether the vote on the Acta agreement should be postponed until the European Court delivers its ruling. I will vote in favour of postponement because I believe that it is reasonable to allow the Court to have its say and for the European Commission to fix it rather than kill it.
If this vote does not find the support of the Chamber, then a second vote will be taken on whether we support Acta as it stands today, warts and all, without waiting for the Court to rule on it. In this case, I will vote against because, as I explained, in its current form, Acta does indeed raise concerns on internet freedom.
I will vote against because, in the balance of interests between internet freedom and the fight against piracy, internet freedom should prevail.
Dr Busuttil is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.