Consumers groups have accused President Barack Obama of favoring a global trade agreement -- currently being negotiated in secret on national security grounds -- that would include harsh provisions similar to France's "three strikes" law, which cuts off internet access for repeated digital piracy. In a letter sent to Congress, the consumer groups expanded on previous concerns expressed by civil libertarians over the secrecy of the treaty -- the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) -- and lambasted the substance of the agreement.

Not surprisingly, Rupert Murdoch, the powerful media mogul, expressed support for a three-strikes-like regime. "There's a lot of movement to get that put in America and become a world standard," Murdoch told Sky News, "because in the music industry today, it's very, very hard for young talent to get started and established."
The consumer groups, Knowledge Ecology International and Public Knowledge, told congressional leaders that the proposed agreement "implicates changes to international intellectual property norms far broader than its name suggests," incorporating elements of the World Trade Organization's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreements.

"Rather than taking as their starting point the entire TRIPS agreement, it would seem that the ACTA negotiators have identified certain parts of the TRIPS agreement most favorable to particular groups of intellectual property holders, including certain publishers, media conglomerates, and pharmaceutical companies," the groups wrote. "Left out of the ACTA text are the elements most favorable to consumers, including those intended to curb anticompetitive practices, and to protect innovation."

"The result is an agreement that is therefore unbalanced. ACTA would appear to be an expanded version of the TRIPS enforcement sections, but without the balance and safeguards that have given TRIPS such legitimacy."

Three Strikes and You're Offline

Based on leaked meeting documents, it looks like the participating nations are developing measures that would make it easier for law enforcement officials to crack down on digital piracy -- including cutting off alleged offenders' Web connections. The treaty would also make it easier for authorities to search and seize your personal computer or other electronics in an effort to locate digital contraband. The treaty would provide some kind of "safe harbor" for Internet service providers, protecting them from prosecution if they comply with the treaty's measures to identify and sanction alleged Internet pirates.

The Obama administration has refused to discuss the treaty -- which could drastically impact American copyright law -- on national security grounds.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- a digital rights group -- ACTA would pave the way for an international three-strikes policy similar to that which just became law in France, "to be part of the new global IP enforcement regime which ACTA is intended to create – despite the fact that it has been categorically rejected by the European Parliament and by national policymakers in several ACTA negotiating countries, and has never been proposed by U.S. legislators."

Last month, France's constitutional court approved a so-called three-strikes law that would allow the jailing of convicted Internet pirates. Civil liberties and consumer groups have petitioned the White House for redress of grievances over ACTA, with little success. We'll see if Congress is more responsive.

Follow Sam Gustin, a reporter for DailyFinance, on Twitter here. Follow DailyFinance's tech coverage here.

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