The folks over at Wikileaks have been receiving a lot of press lately. The organization, which began with a small group of Chinese dissidents seeking to disclose secret information about abuses in their government, has grown exponentially, now hosting millions of documents in an attempt to become “an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis.” Editors include many journalists who attempt to verify any information given to the site before posting.

In the past week, German police raided the home of the Wikileaks.de domain owner and shut down the Wikileaks.de domain. However, Wikileaks remains accessible because it has registered domains in many countries. Furthermore, the main page, Wikileaks.org, still loads in Germany.

Nevertheless, the leaks continue to flow. On April 11, 2009, the site released the most recent drafts of classified Japanese, European, and American proposals for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) , which is currently being negotiated. The treaty was classified on national security grounds. Previous leaked drafts of the treaty have been criticized for being “all wrong” and for turning the Internet into a “virtual police state.”

As each successive draft becomes closer to finalization, many citizens of Western democracies have questioned the fairness of a treaty where the people are not represented or even allowed to access the documents that may govern their lives. Rights groups remain particularly skeptical of the secrecy justification given by both the Bush and Obama administrations; it is difficult to see how an IP treaty relates to national security.

While there are certainly ethical issues regarding the discussion of classified, secret materials, the Internet is already abuzz regarding some of the proposals in the treaty.

Particularly notable is that the treaty apparently allows any infringement to be declared infringement “on a commercial scale,” leaving no distinction between mass piracy for profit and home copying for personal use. In effect, a person who copies a song from one personal computer to another could face the same types of penalties as someone who copies millions of songs for commercial resale.

Furthermore, ACTA enforcement provisions call for additional cooperation between governments to seek out pirates. While it is not immediately clear what practical form such cooperation would take, many are concerned that such cooperation may be heavy-handed, such as border controls involving searches of any digital material without probable cause.

For more information about ACTA, please click here.

Brian Van Wyk

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