ALP backbench Senator Kate Lundy has questioned the representation of Australian citizens in negotiations for the global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which are expected to conclude later this year.
ACTA is a global intellectual property treaty led by the United States. It is being negotiated behind closed doors with trade representatives from 27 countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union.
Concerns have long been raised as to how signing such a treaty would impact consumers and service providers.
"As we have seen in pretty much every trade agreement that includes intellectual property, there is a bit of a ground war afoot as to how much goes too far, led by those in the strongest position to dictate the terms," the Senator said in a blog post today, which also reminded readers of her opposition to ICT-related chapters in a free trade agreement (AUSFTA) Australia signed with the United States.
"There are concerns that the scope of the agreement is far broader than 'combat(ing) the high levels of commercial scale trade in counterfeit and pirated goods worldwide'," she said.
"Individuals in Australia [are] far more vulnerable than citizens in some of the other participating countries, as we do not have a Bill of Rights, Fair Use or similar framework defining and protecting individual rights.
"This is a concern because many of the clauses in ACTA, (as with the AUSFTA) are balanced in the United States through "fair use" and on privacy grounds (just to name a few). However, in Australia citizens would have no such protection or recourse."
Australia is represented in ACTA negotiations by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, IP Australia and the Attorney-General's Office.
Senator Lundy, who is both a peer to Government representatives party to the talks and also a staunch advocate for open Government and wider ICT issues, finds herself in an awkward position on ACTA. She has also been outspoken in her very limited support for her party's plans to filter the internet.
"I do have concerns about [ACTA], about where ICT policy is going," she told iTnews. "With a national network coming online, all things digital will be uplifted in relevance and importance to our economy and society. We have a responsibility in Australia to be thought leaders on this."
Senator Lundy said she is no more privy to ACTA discussions than anyone else in the public sphere and believes greater public input could assist the Government in its negotiations. A public consultation on ACTA is due to be held this Friday in Canberra.
"More broadly there is an opportunity to discuss it in caucus," the Senator said. "I have a view, and I will be interested in the feedback gained through this process. It [feedback] will be communicated to my colleagues."
The Senator feels Australia needs to take a "future-orientated approach to digital intellectual property matters."
The digital landscape is changing so rapidly, she said, that some elements of ACTA will be as outdated as the AUSFTA by the time the treaty is completed.
"Today, there is greater weight on the collaborative environment, on the cloud, which is recognised and validated as a platform for innovation," she said. "There are new variables that will challenge these discussions.
"There is a risk ACTA might seem old-fashioned, with provisions that seem restrictive and constraining rather than encouraging innovation whilst addressing the very serious concerns about criminal activity."
Senator Lundy applauded the research of Queensland academic Kimberlee Weatherall who has twice deconstructed leaks of the ACTA draft text.
Read iTnews' interviews with Kimberlee Weatherall - 'How ACTA will make a criminal of you" and "How ACTA could sneak in a three strikes system".
Senator Lundy also applauded the work of the Wellington Declaration, a dissenting document drafted by InternetNZ calling for more transparency in the ACTA process.
"I endorse it as a good standard to try to apply to any and all intellectual property trade policy considerations," Lundy said in her blog.
"It provides a good basic framework for identifying and protecting the digital rights of people, and the ability for industry to innovate, and for genuine criminal behaviour to be addressed.
"It also addresses the concerns around such agreements being negotiated in secret, and although I can respect that there are times (including in trade agreements) when secrecy is required, it does pose some important questions around the transparency and accountability of such processes."