ACTA in Poland – the state of play

On January 19th (so one day after global Internet protests against US anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA) Polish government finally informed about its plans for ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement). Officials announced that agreement would be signed on January 26th during meeting in Tokyo.
Few days before some organizations  (including Centrum Cyfrowe) asked Prime Minister Donald Tusk to reveal government’s position to ACTA.  In the letter the organizations stated their concerns about content and the way the agreement was negotiated.
As a reaction to the government’s announcement, many Poles (mostly, but not only, young people) started to protest against signing of ACTA, firstly on Facebook (“No for ACTA in Poland” fun page gathered over 222.000 “likes”) and from January 24th on the streets of Polish cities. As a reaction to the online protests administrators of Chancellery of Prime Minister’s official Facebook profile  deleted over 7.000 critical comments posted there by anti-ACTA activists (the official cause was “vulgar and spamming character of the comments”, but as Funpage Trender analysis reveals, only about 1,5% of them contained vulgarities  and over 50% were expressing  pure opposition to ACTA, e.g. “Stop ACTA”, “No to ACTA”.
Some of the organizations gathered in Coalition of Open Education published their position to ACTA. They stated that, ACTA should not be ratified without broad public consultations, clarifying all doubts and concerns about limitation of fundamental rights, creativity and competitiveness.
Skeptical opinions on ACTA were also expressed by Human Rights Defender Irena Lipowicz and Inspector General for the Protection of Personal Data Wojciech Wiewiórowski.
Government’s actions generated also illegal forms of protests. From January 22nd many governmental web pages were attacked and blocked by “Anonymous”, international group of hackers that threatened to continue attacks and reveal stolen secret documents if ACTA is passed.
The situation in Poland had a wide response in foreign media, e.g. BBC News, The Guardian, The Washington Post.
Despite the tense situation, Polish ambassador in Japan signed ACTA on January 26th on behalf of Polish Prime Minister. The protests continue. The Minister of Administration and Digitalization Michał Boni apologized for lack of consultations and promised nationwide discussion before the agreement would be voted on in Sejm.
As showed by study conducted by Centrum Cyfrowe and MillwardBrown SMG/KRC, conflict over ACTA is especially important for young people (under 30 years). 53% of those questioned declared, that the protest against ACTA is so important to them, that they are monitoring current situation and 13% are being personally involved in the protests. 43% of young Poles are afraid that ACTA would restrict freedom of Internet. 30% think that protests are so intense, because Polish government was negotiating the agreement in secrecy.
Some Polish commentators (e.g. Edwin Bendyk) think that as conflict over ACTA concerns mostly its cultural aspects, the massive opposition could be seen as part of the trend from recent years: culture is the sphere where people are most eager to get involved in. Culture is natural glue. Supported by Internet, which helps creating and intensifying social relations, it can build strong social capital. The question is how it would be used in the future. Piotr Bratkowski states that the reason for the protests in Poland (which haven occurred in any other country that is going to sign ACTA) is very low trust of the society to government. “If state receives right to do something, it will definitely use it against people”. Slogan “freedom of Internet” united people from different political and social backgrounds against untrustworthy authorities. Anthropologist Piotr Cichocki thinks, that young people, Internet users, consider ACTA as an attempt to deprive them of part of their identity by calling “piracy” the way they express themselves. Dominika Blachnicka-Ciacek in her article writes that young people, who until recently were not interested in politics, and were living “beside”, in their own, private worlds suddenly realized that government is secretly trying to interfere in their independence. This brought them out on the streets and from “generation beside” change them into “generation against”.
Described situation shows urgent need for reforms in the spirit of open government. Citizens should be more included in legislation processes, government institutions have to work in more transparent manner. Recommendations on how open government paradigm should be introduced in Poland were in detailed described in “The Roadmap for Open Government in Poland” published by Centrum Cyfrowe in summer 2011.