Improving Government by Waking Up

Ironically even though we live in a world where ideas can be a force for positive good there are still those who view public discussion and comment as a problem.

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. “ Winston Churchill

When it comes to debating copyright, IP and access to the internet it would be reasonable to expect policy making on these topics to be more transparent or at least more acessible. So it comes as something of a surprise to catch up on the secret ACTA negotiations being held in Wellington this week.

Nat Torkington writes

“This week marks the start in Wellington New Zealand of the next round of ACTA negotiations, nominally the US-led Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The scope of the agreement, however, has extended well beyond trade in fake medicines and knock-off Gucci handbags into the technical realms of file-sharing, ISP liability, disconnection, and DRM. Such issues have been contentious where they’ve arisen in New Zealand, France, the UK, USA, and elsewhere, yet negotiators seem ignorant of consumer and technology concerns. To correct this, the open PublicACTA conference two days ago drafted and released the Wellington Declaration.”

…”Significant changes to copyright law reflect complex issues with strong public opinion on both sides, and public consultation is essential to make satisfactory law. This was shown last year after New Zealand’s successful opposition to the imposition of three-strikes disconnection law caused the Government to work more closely with those who would be affected, resulting in a significantly better bill to be put before Parliament next month. The ACTA participants are negotiating in secret and countries will sign the agreement before revealing the text, a process that is almost guaranteed to provide bad law.

Those are my italics on that last sentence – negotiating in secret on very contentious aspects of law governing core freedoms like internet access should be just cause for the NZ government to draw a line in the sand and say “no thanks”.

Michael Geist writes The Wellington Declaration on ACTA: Sign Today

Sunday April 11, 2010

“PublicACTA, a full-day event on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement held in Wellington, New Zealand just in advance of the next round of ACTA talks that run all this week in the city.  The event was a model to be emulated in other communities – over 100 people from the community spent an entire sunny Saturday examining the implications of the draft treaty and discussing what should be done about it.

I will post a video of my talk shortly, but the more immediate action point is the outcome of PublicACTA – the Wellington Declaration. The Wellington Declaration was fashioned as a true grassroots effort to give voice to public concern about ACTA.  The participants spent hours discussing their concerns and then gradually drafting a declaration consistent with those views.  Event organizers plan to submit the Declaration with supporting signatures on Tuesday, so add your name to the list today.”

I recommend that everyone who is concerned about these issues has a look at The Wellington Declaration and signs if you agree with it.

See also Lessig and Goldsmith on ACTA’s Constitutional Concerns – Direct Link for Lessig here

These mostly secret negotiations have already violated the Obama administration’s pledge for greater transparency. Embracing this deal by sole executive agreement would repudiate its pledge to moderate assertions of executive power. Congress should resist this attempt to evade the checks established by our Framers.”

Here is a snip from the Wellington declaration  which is where we in NZ can have some input:

“ACTA’s process must change:

* Transparency

We declare public scrutiny and accountability to be important aspects of life in a free society. We call for full transparency and public scrutiny of the ACTA process including release of the text after each round of negotiations. Governments have been unwilling to respond to specific concerns raised by the public. Public scrutiny will help to ensure the Agreement has no unintended consequences and has maximum positive benefit.

* Impact Analysis

We believe that Governments should not sign ACTA without an independent impact analysis covering economic, social, environmental and cultural impacts of the agreement on their respective countries.  Such analysis should be published well in advance of any agreement being signed, so it is open to public scrutiny and consideration of its thoroughness.

* Participation

We call for wider participation in setting the agenda and scope of ACTA. The negotiation and consultation process must enable full participation and informed input into reviewing and developing drafts. All governments must be invited to be part of the negotiating process. Input must be sought from affected sectors such as Education, Health Care, Arts & Culture and Information Technology, NGOs, and consumer rights groups.

Local Flexibility
We affirm the importance of local flexibility and the need to preserve a nation’s tino rangatiratanga and sovereign rights to adjust copyright, trademark and patent law to reflect local culture, preferences and conceptions of the public good.”

Thanks to InternetNZ, Michael Geist, Nat Torkington and others who have raised this issue for public debate. To go straight to the petition here is the key link Online petition – PublicACTA – The Wellington Declaration.

I signed it myself over here.

It is time for us to wake up and to use the internet to get informed and communicate to our governments and other policy making bodies about important issues such as ACTA.