THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The Netherlands this week imposed delays on the ratification of the ACTA international anti-piracy agreement, which critics claim threatens Internet freedoms.
Opponents say the draft Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement puts users' privacy at risk while the European Commission contends the measure doesn't change existing data protection laws and is needed to mount a long-term global fight against copyright theft.
Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have already delayed the international trade agreement's ratification process, citing the same privacy concerns highlighted during a wave of anti-ACTA protests throughout Europe last week.
The Netherlands joined that group Tuesday, when the Dutch lower house of Parliament backed a motion from the Green Left party calling on the Netherlands to refrain from signing onto ACTA, Radio Netherlands reported.
Lawmakers demanded more clarity on the privacy implications for Dutch Internet users under the terms of the deal, which unites all 27 EU member nations, the United States, Japan, Canada and others countries in a regime in which Internet service providers are expected to cooperate with rights holders of content such as music and movies.
One of the chief fears of opponents is that ISPs will be forced to hand over private information to rights holders about users who distribute "counterfeit" digital content, without first obtaining a court order -- something they say has the potential to destroy the freedom of Internet.
Dunja Mijatovic, media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Tuesday urged the European Parliament to reject ACTA, which it is considering for ratification.
"In my role as the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, I am mandated to observe media freedom developments in the OSCE participating states and am concerned that the present agreement on ACTA might have a detrimental effect on freedom of expression and a free flow of information in the digital age," Mijatovic said in Vienna.
Her main concern, she said, is that ACTA "would authorize online service providers to disclose personal information of alleged copyright infringers to rights holders without a court order or the right to appeal, placing the decision on the legal status of content outside the established judicial framework."
The European Commission, however, counters that legal obligations of ISPs aren't changing under ACTA.
"ACTA will not change the role of (ISPs), as is often claimed," a EU position paper says.
Rather, the agreement complies with the Commission's 2000 E-Commerce Directive, which makes it "impossible" for the government to impose "general obligations for ISPs to monitor the information they transmit."
However, the commission noted a memorandum of understanding was struck between rights holders and ISPs in Brussels last year -- signed by such major Internet companies as Microsoft, eBay, Amazon and rights holders such as the Motion Picture Association.
It calls for prompt action by ISPs to police users and remove infringing material at the request of rights owners.
The memorandum states ISPs "commit to disclose … the identity and contact details of alleged infringers and their user names," but only "insofar as permitted by applicable data protection laws," which may require the obtaining of court orders in some countries.
If that's the case, the ISP retains the right to force the copyright holder to procure court authorization, the agreement states.
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