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ACTA leaks - but secret squirrel stays secret

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Just who is the bad apple at the ACTA negotiations, excluding the public and forcing discussions between the parties to be held in secret?

Not us, says the EU, which has come in for some stick of late – not least from Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstroem - for its refusal to allow MEPs to disseminate anything from the talks back to their voters. Rather, the blame should be laid at the door of just one of the parties to the talks, but the official line is that they are staying schtum on just which.

Following a conversation with The Register earlier this week, a spokeswoman for the EU released the following: "It is important to remember that the negotiations on ACTA are taking place between many countries - Europe is just one of the parties to the negotiation. The right to publicly release documents and information needs the consent of all parties.

"At the latest round of negotiations in Switzerland, the European Commission repeatedly pushed for the public release of the latest negotiating text to ensure a clearer picture of the process and to dispel certain misunderstandings among concerned citizens and stakeholders. Unfortunately, this action was refused by one party.

"As a result, we are bound to continue to respect the confidential nature of negotiations until all parties agree to the greater transparency that the European Commission is seeking."

So just who is the hold-out? Which party has most to hide, and most fears the idea of the public getting in on the act?

Given clear disagreements between the EU and US on the eventual shape of an ACTA agreement, and recent condemnation of "US hypocrisy" by European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, one obvious candidate would seem to be the United States. However, an official at the US embassy this morning would "neither confirm nor deny" any such thing.

If not the US, then who? The full list of negotiating parties includes Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. Take your pick!

The EU spokeswoman is clear: it isn’t them. She told us: "Our goal is greater transparency and a better understanding for EU citizens of the benefits of the ACTA agreement. As a result, the latest debriefing to MEPs was conducted in a manner that would not undermine the trust of negotiating partner nations at this time but did ensure they receive the latest up to date information on the negotiations including the possibility of checking the current draft text.

"At the same time, Commissioner De Gucht continues on a regular basis to brief in full and in public Members of the European Parliament including the Trade Committee of the European Parliament on the current state of the ACTA negotiations."

But is there any point to all this secrecy? The content of discussions that took place in January of this year was leaked two months later, in March. The latest round of talks, which generated so much fuss, took place on 1 July. The consolidated text from that meeting was leaked via La Quadrature du net on 13 July – less than two weeks later. ®

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