(AFP) – Feb 13, 2012
RIGA — Hundreds of Latvians on Monday rallied Monday against the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, amid objections it could hit Internet freedom.
Around 300 mainly young people braved sub-zero temperatures outside the Baltic state's cabinet office, following weekend demonstrations across Europe.
Economy Minister Daniels Pavluts -- who last week put the brakes on Latvia's ratification of the international agreement saying more consultation was needed -- came out to meet them.
"Your opinion has been heard, and I remind you that ratification of ACTA will not move forward without a discussion," Pavluts told the crowd, one of whom was detained for covering his face with the Guy Fawkes mask of "hacktivists" Anonymous.
ACTA was negotiated by the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.
Germany, not among the 22 EU members to have inked ACTA so far, last week froze moves to sign.
Signatories Poland and the Czech Republic have put their parliamentary ratification process on ice.
ACTA aims to beef up international standards for intellectual property protection, for example by doing more to fight counterfeit goods.
But it is its role on the Internet that has fuelled anger online and on the streets.
Critics say it gives copyright-holders too much clout, for example allowing them to use the battle against illegal downloading to force the closure of websites without the proof a court would demand.
Governments have come under fire for discussing the deal with industry players, but not Internet users' groups.
"We are protesting against ACTA but also against this way the government is working by first signing up and then waiting to see what the reaction would be," IT professional Janis Mucenieks told AFP.
Also protesting was cyber-activist Ilmars Poikans, who won fame in 2010 under the name "Neo" for releasing tax records of Latvia's elite.
"The main trouble is even if ACTA is dead there will be ACTA II or ACTA III, so the fight against such acts will probably be forever. ACTA is not hell on earth but it could open the door to hell on earth," he told AFP.
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