Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don’t sign away our rights in secret

Today on Radio New Zealand National after the 11am news I talk about ACTA, the secret treaty being negotiated by your government that has the potential to take away your rights. It’s worth getting angry about. You can see my speaking notes below the fold, read my blog post about it at Public Address, or after the broadcast you’ll be able to download the audio as ogg or mp3.
Technology slot with Colin Jackson for Thursday 26th November 2009


…then our technology slot, and this week Colin Jackson to talk about the secret treaty that the government is negotiating about your rights on the Internet.

Q: Now to the treaty. Can you give us some background?

A: The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement sounds like it should be doing something about the tide of fake Prada handbags and Rolex watches in our shops, doesn’t it?

Q: Is there a tide?

A: I don’t think so, presumably because we already have some reasonably effective laws against that. No, the concern that many people have about the ACTA treaty is that it apparently includes a lot of stuff about the Internet.

Q: Apparently?

A: That’s the thing. ACTA has been in negotiation for the last year and a half at least, and the text of the treaty is secret. Not just lets keep it confidential, but according to the Obama administration it’s an actual national-security grade honest to goodness secret. The kind that you can actually go to jail for leaking.

Q: Why is this treaty that secret?

A: Goodness knows. One possibility is that it’s so inimical to ordinary people’s rights that democratic governments don’t want to even discuss the provisions in public. Maybe that point of view is paranoid, but until a copy of the treaty gets published we have to guess.

Q: So what sort of things are in the treaty?

A: The only people to have seen it so far are the officials negotiating it and 42 lobbyists.

Q: Who are the lobbyists?

A: Almost all are from the big entertainment industries. These are the kind of the people who want your Internet cut off to preserve their business model. They are the same people, by the way, who told congress that the introduction of the home video recorder would be as dangerous to America as the Boston Strangler was to a woman at home alone. So they are certainly guilty of at least outrageous hyperbole.

Q: The world didn’t end when we all got video recorders

A: Of course not, in fact the studios did rather well off selling us VCR tapes, and a whole industry of video rental shops sprung up. Now those shops are under threat by movie downloads – that’s illegal and legal ones – and they are busy trying to organize petitions and make submissions in favour of cutting off people’s Internet. Funny, that.

Q: You said we don’t know what’s in ACTA – is that what this is all about?

A: Controlling the Internet is certainly what the entertainment industry has been pushing lawmakers for, for some time now. They almost got away with a ludicrously-short sighted law in this country last year, although the current government had the good sense to step back from that.

But we do know that ACTA is at least in part about exactly that – cutting off Internet on accusation of copyright infringment. That’s through an eminent Canadian law professor, Michael Geist, who’s seen a copy. He may be one of the 42 who have been allowed to see it – I’m not sure about that because they’ve been forced to sign a pretty strong non-disclosure agreement. Anyway, Geist claims that the draft includes the most ridiculous elements of the New Zealand law that got thrown out, particularly the requirement for Internet Service Providers to terminate the accounts of people or businesses accused of copyright violations.

Q: You’ve talked about this before.

A: I certainly have – it’s disproportionate, unfair and just plain wrong. If its implemented it will change everyone’s Internet experience and damage New Zealand’s competitiveness to advantage a few offshore companies.

But my real point here is not the policy but the way it is being driven in to New Zealand via a secret treaty that none of us can see. That’s deeply undemocratic. You’ll recall that the previous government drove the law to cut off people’s Internet in without bothering with any of the tedious scrutiny by Select Committees that we’ve come to expect in New Zealand. It seems the current government is going a step further by actually negotiating this thing internationally in an environment of total secrecy.

Q: You obviously don’t think that’s good enough.

A: Well, hardly. Really, I’m angry about this. How dare our elected politicians carry on negotiations behind our back designed to disenfranchise the vast majority of New Zealanders who use the Internet? Where’s the democracy in that?

Q: Is this about a free trade deal?

A: Maybe it will wind up being a condition of a trade agreement. In that case, let’s get all the conditions of any putative trade deal out on the table so we can see what is being done in our name. Maybe it’s a good deal to trade away our Internet rights to get more profits for the farming sector, maybe not. Depends on a lot of things and we should have a debate about it. But I’m really afraid the whole thing would just get negotiated in back rooms and signed quickly with no debate – it would make our politicians look good.

It’s easy to bag FTAs in general and that’s not my intention here. What I am saying, is let’s have an open debate about a specific one. The Australian FTA with the US gives their farmers almost nothing – because the Americans wouldn’t agree to anything more. It was signed by John Howard against the advice of Australian officials who realized that Austrlia would lose, but the PM would lose face politically if he couldn’t get the agreement. That’s my big worry about us signing an FTA with the US – if the terms of the deal are not subject to open debate, how do we know that we haven’t just sacrificed our Internet or our technology industry? Who gets to debate that?


ACTA – the secret treaty that could take away your rights, but you aren’t allowed to see it. Michael Geist’s take on it, and a column by Colin Jackson.

posted by colin at 8:20 pm  


  1. Did you say that Northland Polytechnic has done a tutorial video on Python? I can’t find the link from here:

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 26 November 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  2. For a list of links related with ACTA please see:

    Comment by spectraz — 26 November 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  3. Python video online at:

    Comment by colin — 27 November 2009 @ 4:38 pm

  4. Thanks for that link. Turtle graphics—some of the old (teaching) ideas are still the best!

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 28 November 2009 @ 10:21 am

  5. Anyway, back to ACTA—looks like there have been more leaks of the details, and as usual they don’t look very good:

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 1 December 2009 @ 12:24 pm

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