German Gov't Uses Anger Over Lack Of ACTA Transparency To Justify Further Lack Of Transparency
from the missing-the-point dept
Even though the ACTA text is now finalized, getting details from national governments about what exactly happened during the negotiations is proving extremely difficult, with information still trickling out slowly.
For example, as the Netzpolitik blog explains (German original), the European Commission tried to counter accusations that the negotiations were lacking in transparency by pointing out that the German government had a representative present during all the sessions (that’s transparency?). This was news to people, since the German government had somehow omitted to mention this fact.
A natural question was therefore: who exactly took part? A German freedom of information request was put in to find out, and refused on rather remarkable grounds: that it might place the German officials who had been present during the negotiations at risk, because of the “emotional discussions” about ACTA that have taken place recently. The German government even claimed that threats of physical violence had been made against those who had taken part in ACTA, and so it couldn’t endanger the persons involved by naming them.
This all seems pretty far fetched. I don’t recall hearing about anyone threatening ACTA officials with physical violence, but I suppose it’s possible that someone, somewhere in Germany, say, wrote something to this effect. However, the Germany government is really missing the point here.
The fact that such “emotional discussions” have taken place demonstrates how deeply frustrated people are at the continuing lack of transparency surrounding the ACTA negotiations. Using that previous failure to provide information to justify further withholding of details is only likely to exacerbate things. It’s time for the German government, and the other signatories, to stop playing these bureaucratic games and to start engaging with their citizens through the release of more details about what exactly happened behind ACTA’s closed doors.
As well as details of who took part, there is one other category of information whose release is vital: the preparatory documents used during the negotiations. That’s because much of ACTA is worded in an extremely vague way, making precise interpretation difficult. In these circumstances, Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties presumably comes into play (pdf):
Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31 [General rule of interpretation], or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31:
(a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or
(b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable.
Without those preparatory materials the true effect of ACTA is difficult to gauge, and those “emotional discussions” that are apparently so problematic are likely to become even more heated. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?