Why, Actually, Are They Hiding ACTA?

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One of the curious aspects of articles and posts about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is that it's all a kind of journalistic shadow-boxing. In the absence of the treaty text, everybody has been relying on leaks, and nudges and winks in the form of official FAQs and “summaries” to give them some clue as to its content.

The official reason for this is seems to be twofold: first, that it's still very early days, and so there's nothing to release; and secondly, that even if there were something to release, they wouldn't do it because it's all frightfully confidential stuff.

Well, both of those excuses have now gone out of the window thanks to the indispensable Wikileaks, which has got hold of some drafts of the ACTA documents, albeit in older versions. Rather amusingly, in true secret agent fashion, the originals were provided as fuzzy photos of the pages (available as a PDF from the page above), but thanks to the wonders of crowdsourcing, things were quickly typed up into a digital, searchable format.

It's a depressing little document, with its obsession about control – all very 20th century. But as far as I can see, there's nothing in the drafts that we haven't heard about in other ways. So, the big question is: why actually are they refusing to release it officially?

It's true that one of the key sections – that dealing with “Special Requirements Related to Information Technology and Internet Distribution” - is missing, and it's possible there's something truly shocking lurking there. But the only real explanation is that the refusal to make the text available is secrecy for secrecy's sake.

These kind of international treaties have always been negotiated behind locked doors, and the little people like you and me only got to hear about them afterwards. Those pushing ACTA want things to carry on like that; but the world has changed. Thanks to the Internet – and to sites like Wikileaks – this stuff always gets out. Trying to keep it secret is simply futile.

Given that a draft is now available, and that others will doubtless follow, the best thing would be for for the ACTA nations to acknowledge that we live in different, more open times, and to embrace them. Let them release an official ACTA draft for everyone to comment on – and not just the chosen few that are permitted to walk the hallowed corridors of power.

After all, the negotiators are supposed to be representing *us*: if they have a mandate, it comes from you and me. It is only right that we should be able to see what is being done in our name, and to have voice in the negotiations. If the ACTA process really can't cope with those new conditions, it means that it is not fit for the purpose of handling 21st - as opposed to 20th - century trade, and the whole treaty needs to be started again anyway.

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