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Poland: Netizens Protest Government's Plan to Sign ACTA Next Week

With the world still talking about the aftermath of the SOPA/PIPA Blackout Day, Polish netizens are confronted with another backstabbing development in the fight for free Internet.

On January 19, 2012, during a meeting with NGOs and business representatives, the Polish government announced [pl] that it would sign the controversial anti-piracy agreement ACTA on January 26. While the governement calls it a success [pl] of the Polish EU Presidency, netizens are outraged with the arbitrary decision and are calling to take action against the proposal.

ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is a proposed plurilateral agreement for the purpose of establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement. According to La Quadrature du Net and other globally active digital rights organisations, such as Electronic Frontier Foundation or European Digital Rights, ACTA would impose new criminal sanctions forcing Internet actors to monitor and censor online communications. Creating legal uncertainty for Internet companies, ACTA would become a major threat to freedom of expression online and another assault against the culture of sharing on the Internet.

Image by flickr user PateandoPiedrasweb under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

Image by flickr user PateandoPiedrasweb under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

The decision of the Polish government [pdf, pl] to sign the “European SOPA” worries [pl] blogger Maciej Gajewski from the tech website Spiderweb.pl:

Lately, one talks a lot about SOPA and PIPA bills and this is very good: in my opinion, these are the reprehensible bills and I think that the goal should never justify the means. For the Polish netizens the consequences of these two bills are negligible. If they were adopted, they would concern us only regarding the possibility to block our website for people in the USA. And that's actually it. But meanwhile, just in one week, our country, as a country subordinated to the European Union, will join the ACTA agreement. And this can hurt us. Very much.

An agreement negotiated behind the people's backs

But it's not only the content of the agreement proposal that upsets the netizens. The very secret character of the international ACTA negotiations and a stunning lack of public consultations and transparency in the negotiating process are clearly pointing to a democracy failure, according to [pl] Antyweb, a popular Polish tech-blogger:

They promised debates – nothing. They promised openness – nothing. Democracy is being destroyed, the deputies don't know what they are signing, and all this will lead to a situation when bloggers, scientists and entrepreneurs will be qualified as criminals. And if not, they will anyway walk on thin ice, paying attention not to step on a patent spot with an additinal R letter in a circle on the right side.

The digital rights blog Prawo.vagla.pl criticises [pl] the scandalous ignorance of the Polish government:

We found out that, of course, it's no longer possible to withdraw the decision about the signature of a Polish representative on the ACTA document, that this signature will be put and it will open the way to the ratification procedure. I asked the representatives of these ministries if they had any plan in case the European or the Polish Parliament would not not agree to the ratification. I heard that “it would put us to shame.” I wonder what is a bigger shame, and if it's not maybe the way of working on this kind of an international agreement where the public opinion couldn't get the public information it deserves.

In reaction to the netizens’ protest, the Polish Minister of Administration and Digitalisation, Michal Boni [pl], asked [pl] the PM Donald Tusk to re-discuss the agreement before signing it. The meeting [pl] will take place on January 24.

ACTA has to be stopped

In the meantime the Polish Internet is fuming with anger. Facebook pages, such as Poland against ACTA & SOPA and NIE dla ACTA w Polsce, spring up like mushrooms and gather hundreds of thousands of netizens around the protest. On the wall of the Facebook event Nie dla ACTA, Rafal Mirski writes [pl]:

I am in favor of intellectual property protection but not with these methods! This is throwing the baby out with the bath water. You can't allow to subordinate the whole Internet to any group of interest. ACTA is forcing Internet providers to censorship! And it is in fact puzzling how fast, without any public debate, one tries to dictate some solutions. We definitely have to stop it!

Maciej Gajewski from Spiderweb doesn't like [pl] the perspective of being monitored all the time:

First of all: although I don't share anything illegal on the net, I don't feel comfortable knowing that somebody is registering my every step on the Internet. Even if it's an automatic machine. Secondly, these will cause huge costs for the providers. Our activity has to be monitored and archived. Let's prepare for a big raise of Internet prices.

Polish digital rights organisations sent an appeal [pdf, pl] to the PM, drawing his attention to the risks of ACTA. On Wykop, a Polish version of Digg, user katius posted a protest letter [pl] to the Members of the Parliament, encouraging other users to address their representatives with the issue. A series of live protest events [pl] in the biggest Polish cities are planned to take place.

A Polish blackout?

Encouraged by the SOPA/PIPA protest success in the United States, blogger Antyweb calls on his blog [pl] for a Polish blackout:

We have to arrange a specific date (pretty fast) and switch off in the Polish web whatever we can while displaying information about ACTA and about damaging democracy. We need to draw peoples’ attention to the fact that this is not the way to take decisions in a modern democratic state. Americans could make it, Poles can do it as well – especially the “internet”-ones. What about Monday, [January 23]? But which of the Polish websites will give up money in the name of defending democracy and free Internet?

Also, the Polish Wikipedia community is considering a blackout [pl] and is in the process of editing an anti-ACTA manifest [pl].

Last hope: European Parliament's veto right

The whole situation looks a bit less dramatic once we consider that the Polish signature alone doesn't change anything yet. The agreement needs to be ratified by the European Parliament. Antyweb writes [pl]:

If we want to fight ACTA, then we need to do it on the European Parliament level – it is there where ACTA will have its “to be or not to be.” The EP can dismiss ACTA completely and then the bill lands in trash. Amen. But it doesn't change the fact that it is worthy to take action on January 26.

As promising as it sounds, isn't it quite dissapointing that instead of counting on one's own government to protect civil and digital rights of its citizens, one has to rely on the reason of EU politicians? Twitter user @PrzemoBrozek sums it up [pl]:

On January 26 Poland will sign ACTA. According to the agreement, Internet providers will have to monitor all users’ activities. 1984 MODE ON.

Update:

On January 21, around 7 PM, Anonymous hackers have blocked access to the websites of the Sejm, the lower Chamber of the Polish Parliament, the Chancellery of the PM, the President, and the Ministry of Culture. At the time of writing this article, the websites are still offline.

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