ACTA  secrecy continues in the European Parliament. Next week, the Trade (INTA) committee will meet to hear the presentation of an   opinion on ACTA from the European Parliament’s own internal legal services.  The INTA committee has refused requests from campaigning groups to release the opinion, raising fears that it will support an official view of ACTA, and fail to address what are now becoming well-known non-compliance problems raised by this secretly-negotiated copyright enforcement treaty.

The INTA committee meeting on ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement) will be held next Wedneday 23 November. The European Parliament Legal Service will present to the committee its considered opinion on ACTA, which has been prepared at the request of the INTA co-ordinators. But the presentation  will be   ‘in camera’. That means behind closed doors, in secrecy. The MEPs on the INTA committee will be bound by confidentiality agreements not to divulge what they hear.

 One of the  roles of the European Parliament’s legal services is to defend the Parliament’s position when it is challenged. It also does provide advice on tricky  aspects of law and policy. Given the high level of controversy over ACTA  non-compliance with the EU acquis communitaire, the position taken by the legal services will be important. It is therefore a critical  that the legal services opinion is examined in public.

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) has been campaigning for the release of the legal opinion, but has been refused. They wrote to the INTA committee chairman, Vital Moreira with a specific request. In his reply  stated, Mr Moreira stated:

“the opinion of the Legal Service is, for the time being, a confidential  document; therefore its presentation is foreseen to take place in an “in camera” part  of the Committee meeting.”

He also implied that there is a public interest reason for witholding the opinion – this does seem a little difficult to justify. The full text of the FFII request to the INTA committee and the response is here.

However,  the INTA committee chairman   has revealed  there is an ACTA workshop planned for   March next year. He has also indicated  that  there will be an exchange of views on ACTA which the public may attend, although he gave no  date for it.

 This whole episode gives me a strange sense of déjà vu. There was a similar situation in the Telecoms Package 3rd Reading where there was an attempt to withold  a legal opinion.Will EU lawyers white-out Amendment 138? In that instance, the opinion  somehow emerged into the public domain.

 As a serious comment, I would say that the legal opinion was very helpful in providing an understanding  of the problem which the Parliament was facing at the time. An account of the 3rd Reading  is provided in my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma

 The INTA committee would be well  advised to stop the cloak-and-dagger behaviour, and simply release the legal opinion.

 Please cite Monica Horten, ACTA ‘in camera’ – the legal opinion they don’t want you to see,, 16 November 2011