A European Commission spokesman said on Wednesday that some elements of an E.U.-Canada trade deal that activists claimed infringed digital civil liberties have been removed.
However, Trade Commission spokesman John Clancy, reacting via his Twitter account, named only two articles that had been expunged. Both were controversial.
The controversy over the Canada-E.U. Trade Agreement (CETA) came about when a leaked draft of the deal was shown to contain the same text as the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). ACTA was rejected by the European Parliament on the grounds that it did not sufficiently protect civil liberties, particularly online.
One of the main sticking points was the inclusion of text that would allow signatories to "order an online service provider to disclose expeditiously to a right holder information sufficient to identify a subscriber whose account was allegedly used for infringement." This was interpreted by many as tantamount to making ISPs the unofficial police of the Internet. But this article is no longer in the CETA text according to Clancy.
The leaked CETA text dates from February and is likely to have been updated since then. However, since, like ACTA, the deal is being conducted in secret behind closed doors, both Parliamentarians and digital activists are in the dark about what exactly has been changed.
"These negotiations have been going on for more than three years and it is only today following media coverage of the leak that we have any indication about what is in the text. So I want to see proof that these articles have been removed," said Jé²©mie Zimmermann, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.
According to the leaked text, many other controversial paragraphs still remain. The circumvention of technical protection measures would be criminalized, as could the manufacture, importation, distribution or marketing of software that "is primarily designed for the purpose of circumventing an effective technological measure or has only a limited commercially significant purpose other than circumventing an effective technological measure".
What a "limited commercially significant purpose" might be is not defined in the leaked draft. Under the leaked February draft agreement, authorities would also have the right to destroy "materials and implements predominantly used in the creation or manufacture" of intellectual property infringing goods.
Finally, it would enshrine the power of authorities, already included in the European eCommerce Directive, to order Internet Service Providers to cut off an individual's Internet connection if found guilty of infringing intellectual property on a "commercial scale." Once again, a clear definition of what constitutes "commercial scale" is not included in the leaked draft.
The Commission has still not specified whether these sections have been altered in CETA. All Clancy could confirm via Twitter was that "CETA does not contain any provisions that differ from existing E.U. law". However exactly the same was said by the Commission in relation to ACTA, which did not prevent widespread civil protests and rejection by the Parliament.
The Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA) is still in the early stages and will not be put before the European Parliament until the beginning of 2014.