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Brussels data watchdog cries foul over secret copyright talks

Hustinx left out in the cold

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The man charged with protecting EU citizens' personal data and privacy has protested at being frozen out of secret negotiations to tighten international copyright law online.

Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, spoke out after a draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) leaked on Friday. It showed plans to make ISPs liable under civil law for the content of traffic.

The secrecy surrounding the talks between Western governments has prompted an outcry from digital rights lobbyists, who claim an entertainment industry stitch-up. The UK government recently declined to release more details to Parliament.

Hustinx today said ACTA could mean "three strikes" or "graduated response" policies - where ISPs restrict internet access to those accused of infringing copyright by filesharing - are imposed. ISPs could also be compelled to monitor their customers' internet use for illegal filesharing, he claimed.

"Whereas intellectual property is important to society and must be protected, it should not be placed above individuals' fundamental rights to privacy and data protection," Hustinx said.

The European Commission is negotiating ACTA on behalf of the EU, including the UK. Hustinx office said he "regrets" that he was not consulted by officials on the content of the proposed agreement.

"A right balance between protection of intellectual property rights and the right to privacy and data protection should be ensured," he said.

He called for any data transfers mandated by ACTA - for example between ISPs and regulators - to be subject to binding privacy safeguards. He said constant monitoring of internet use would be too intrusive.

"It is also particularly crucial that data protection requirements are taken into account from the very beginning of the negotiations so as not later on having to find alternative privacy compliant solutions."

The EDPS' full official opinion on the leaked draft of ACTA is here (pdf).

In the UK the Digital Economy Bill, which implements the type of graduated response regime cited by Hustinx, is proceeding through Parliament. It envisages copyright infringement will be detected by targeted monitoring of peer-to-peer networks. ®

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