Remembering the lessons learnt in the fight against ACTA and the Sinde Act, within the framework of resistance to TTIP

Por: Simona Levi, Isabel Sanchez Flores, Alfa Sánchez

A neutral Internet exists because the “founding fathers” made it like that; an Internet where no one has power to exercise a blockage that restricts free interconnection, information and communication of users and where my Bit it’s not less worthy than the Bit of a multinational. It can be improved, but above all it should be preserved against attacks that want to once more transform it from a tool for all to a tool for few.

The fight for Net Neutrality and to pass legislations that legally bind it is a key battle for democracy in the 21st century and for human freedom.

The reason to attack Net Neutrality has a double function.

– Political: total control -by governments and the interests that run them- over the tool; over a space in which starting opportunities are equal for all. In order to exercise this control, excuses are needed and to instil enough fear to make a population meekly accept being robbed of their freedoms.

– Economical: All of the models that democratise the possibility of undertaking new projects directly affect economic monopolies who demand protection. To exercise this control excuses are needed as well as the capacity to instil enough fear to make a population meekly accept being robbed of their common subsistence tools.

The Internet is a democratising tool at many levels. As the so-called Free Trade Agreements, and as IN the FTAs, the different laws aimed at controlling the Internet have had and still have the same spirit: to legislate skipping recognised democratic channels, creating and trying to apply different legislation to that which is provided by the legal system, which we consider as a minimum framework, conquered by previous struggles.

For example, remembering the first wording of the so-called Sinde Act:

2. The competent bodies [a “rhetoric” figure to disguise that it is no longer a court acting but a simple administrative body, in the style of a censorship committee, independent of the law] for adopting measures with the aim of identifying the actor in charge of the information society [ie anyone who uses the Internet, from a simple blog to the big Telefónica company] that is making the alleged infringing conduct [wham, they’ve missed out the presumption of innocence], may require from the information society’s service provider to communicate data that allows identification in order to appear in the proceedings. Service providers are obliged to facilitate data in their possession.

We see how their wording reveals total ignorance of what the Internet is and how it works, skipping the legal frameworks and the presumption of innocence, and allowing multinationals and lobbies (with the blessing of governments and leaving aside the courts), to control what is legal and what is not in the Internet.

According to this model, the private companies look for and supervise all shared information; Telefónica, and not the law, controls the space; while the judges only examine (authorise) the orders (“we’re going to shut down your website”, “give me all data from this user”) without a legal resolution, this means; leaving unclear or if there is crime or not.

All of this is carried out by an emergency procedure, so far reserved for paramount issues such as:

A) The safeguard of public order, criminal investigation, public security and national defence.
B) The protection of public health or of natural or legal persons who are consumers or users, even when acting as investors.
C) Respect of the dignity of an individual and the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of race, sex, religion, opinion, nationality, disability or any other personal or social circumstance.
D) The protection of youth and childhood

A process that was only used in the defence of the common interest goes thus to serve the copyright guild; a monopoly hindering the free movement of culture and the benefit of authors, matching the guild interests of the multinationals to those of the commons, of the citizenship.

But as Cory Doctorow illustrates well, the copyright war is only an experiment on the path to try to control the Internet.

The spirit of this first version of the law, whose damage we disabled in essentially two years of struggle, is part of this new economic and legislative fashion (though not so new because it existed for several decades, starting with developing countries) which, as embryonic “democracies” are secured, seeks ways to bypass the channels that are gradually being considered democratic.

This same structure appears in all FTAs that other continents have suffered and that now is being imposed upon Europe.

Treaties that are characterised by a total lack of transparency, as well as being a product of negotiation processes deeply anti-democratic, in which any participation mechanisms are bypassed when making arrangements, leaving citizens and Parliaments aside. Articulations with the aim of giving large companies and corporations the right to ignore national and international Courts of justice are also included.

This was tried with ACTA, which focused not only on intellectual property but also on patents and trademarks, including those patents with a high social burden; as genetic engineering, transgenic products, software patents, imposed business models, etc.).
We should further note that all of these treaties and laws refer to crimes, or supposed crimes, for which legal frameworks (in the normal and recognised legal systems) already exist.

ACTA was, until TTIP, the biggest attempt in Europe, but we proved they were not untouchable; we overthrew ACTA completely in two years of struggle, demonstrating that pressure from civil society groups achieved -and will continue achieving- victories.

In ACTA, all of the issues were included under the same treaty. Now, as we will see in CETA, TTIP and TISA, a considerable strength has gone in to fragmenting the content spreading it into many different and exhausting fronts for civil society. Still citizen surveillance never ceases to win victories.

The fight is also mimetic


The crusade for the protection from monopolies is accompanied by an attempt to criminalise the tool that they are seeking to control. If the message “this tool serves to do evil” permeates in society, us citizens, we become less reluctant to accept losing power of the tool.
While the copyright monopolies are more than well exhausted, or in part reconverted and less aggressive in these treaties, the control of the tool -control over the Internet- is being attempted by others.

Recent information indicates that the United States requests to include in the TTIP part of their Communications Decency Act (DCA). Under the “good Samaritan” clause, this law grants to service providers and Internet intermediaries the right to act, in “good faith”, like the Internet police; monitoring and even preventatively punishing acts that may pose a potential infringement. With sweet words as “decency” and “good faith” legislation is being imposed once again placing corporations above justice and the rule of law and opens the door wide to censorship, jeopardizing not only net neutrality, but also the fundamental rights for us, the users.

And once again, we are talking about crimes where there already exists legislation. The Internet is not another world; it is an important part of this world. There are already laws against harassment, applicable to “cyber-bullying” and other forms of “indecencies”.

While it is true that almost nothing about the inclusion of copyright issues has been leaked from TTIP, the worst of ACTA could reappear as a serious attack on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, privacy and free access to information and knowledge, among others.

TTIP’s own structure is part of this design that seeks to bypass the conventional channels of democracy, just now when citizens are conquering it.

And one more time, we won’t allow it.