Wednesday, 21 December 2011

European Union versus SOPA and Protect IP Act?

The European Parliament took a stand against the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill debated in the US House of Representatives and its sister, the Protect IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011) discussed in the Senate.

Both bills raise serious concerns regarding the integrity of the internet as well as for service providers and businesses, not only in the United States, but globally.

How about the other EU institutions?

Here are the results of a quick search for public EU materials through the EEAS web pages.

European External Action Service EEAS

We start from the country page for the United States of America at the European External Action Service EEAS, where we find no specific item dedicated to the issue. However, there is material about the recent summit between the European Union and the United States of America.

EU-US summit

We take a closer look at the recent EU-US summit, 28 November 2011. Did the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, the high representative Catherine Ashton or trade commissioner Karel De Gucht raise issues related to the internet in their discussions with president Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton?

In the EU-US Summit Joint statement, Washington, 28 November 2011 (document 17805/11), paragraph 4 mentioned the work of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), underlining the need to avoid unnecessary divergence in regulations and standards affecting trade, but also highlighting the the efforts to protect intellectual property rights (IPR):

4. We applaud the success of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) on a wide range of issues and welcome the progress achieved in secure trade and supply chain security, electric vehicles and related infrastructure, regulatory practices, small and medium-sized enterprises, and in the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector. We encourage the TEC’s continued leadership in helping us avoid unnecessary divergence in regulations and standards that adversely affects trade. We urge the TEC, together with our regulators and standard-setters to step up co-operation in key sectors such as nanotechnology and raw materials to develop compatible approaches to emerging technologies. We also instruct the TEC to pursue its work on strategic economic questions, not least in the field of investment, innovation policy, and the protection of intellectual property rights to level the playing field for our companies in third countries, in particular emerging economies.
The leaders did pay respect to an undivided global internet, before plunging into the security-driven concrete agenda, in paragraph 22:

22. We share a commitment to a single, global Internet, and will resist unilateral efforts to weaken the security, reliability, or independence of its operations — recognizing that respect for fundamental freedoms online, and joint efforts to strengthen security, are mutually reinforcing. We welcome the progress made by the EU-U.S. Working Group on Cyber-security and Cyber-crime, notably the successful Cyber Atlantic 2011 exercise. We endorse its ambitious goals for 2012, including combating online sexual abuse of children; enhancing the security of domain names and Internet Protocol addresses; promotion of international ratification, including by all EU Member States, of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime ideally by year’s end; establishing appropriate information exchange mechanisms to jointly engage with the private sector; and confronting the unfair market access barriers that European and U.S. technology companies face abroad.

The mandate of the new TEC high level working group on jobs and growth includes regulatory issues affecting trade (press release MEMO/11/843). Thus, it could be a forum for the prevention of new barriers.

Transatlantic Economic Council TEC

The Commission's DG Trade provides an overview of the meeting of the Transatlantic Economic Council TEC, i.a.:

Information and Communication Technology: The EU and US reviewed the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) trade related principles which were agreed earlier this year and discussed ways of promoting the implementation of these principles within their bilateral economic relationship and in their trade negotiations with third countries. (IP/11/402)

The press release IP/11/402 notes the agreement on a set of ten fundamental principles for trade in information and communication technology (ICT) services, bilaterally and in order to open up markets for EU and US companies worldwide.

Logically, bilateral and globally propagated standards for information and communication technology (ICT) should exclude the creation of unilateral barriers, although the agreed principles come equipped with a caveat, far from clear in scope:

The EU-US Trade Principles for ICT Services have been agreed on a best endeavour basis and do not affect the rights of the EU or the US to maintain their respective policy approaches to the protection of intellectual property, privacy and personal data and the enhancement of cultural diversity.

The two-page document adds that financial services (one of the SOPA concerns) are excluded from the scope:

European Union-United States Trade Principles for Information and Communication Technology Services (4 April 2011)

The ten principles are briefly defined. Many of them could be affected by the SOPA and Protect IP bills.

Security and intellectual property or fundamental rights?

TFTP, ACTA, PNR... the list of invasive treaties problematic with regard to fundamental rights in the EU has grown.

The summit declaration and the TEC principles contain a few vague pointers, but what if the legislative powers in the USA decide to go even further than the executive, which works hard enough as it is to export its agendas on internet security and protection of intellectual property?

What have the EU institutions said and done? Where do they stand on freedoms and rights?

Ralf Grahn