‘We’re likely to be in a world without SOPA and ACTA’ – EU’s Neelie Kroes

8 May 2012

EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes

The EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has admitted we are now likely to be in a world without SOPA and without ACTA.

Speaking at the Freedom Re:Publica conference in Berlin on Friday (4 May), Kroes, in a speech about fundamental freedoms online, argued that while yes, the internet should be free, it should not be a lawless Wild West.

She said the thousands of people who took to the streets to protest ACTA in Europe, as well as the online activism in the US that sent SOPA to a juddering halt showed just how much people care about freedom on the internet.

ACTA (Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has been ratified by 22 European countries, including Ireland. In recent weeks, Germany postponed its decision to ratify ACTA, which potentially includes remedies against copyright theft, such as three strikes, and the European Court of Justice will investigate whether ACTA breaches fundamental human rights.

“We have recently seen how many thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the internet,” Kroes said in her speech Friday.

“This is a strong new political voice. And as a force for openness, I welcome it, even if I do not always agree with everything it says on every subject. We are now likely to be in a world without SOPA and without ACTA. Now we need to find solutions to make the internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde.

“The fact is that, sometimes, online activities have real-world implications. Like it or not, people sometimes use online tools to conspire for horrific crimes like murder or child abuse. Others launch cyberattacks to breach or destabilise internet systems: attacks which increasingly impact on people’s daily lives, as ever more transactions go digital.

“I know that this is the tiny minority of online activity. And I know that we cannot overreact: as in other fields of life, we must balance liberty and security. But neither can we ignore it. The internet has become too important to just leave its future to good fortune. That is why we must recognise rights and responsibilities online – for an online world that is an increasingly important part of our society.”

Open innovation, don’t strangle it

Kroes argued that an open internet can unlock significant economic value, powering innovation, leading to a surge in productivity and empowering ordinary people to be entrepreneurial.

She said public-sector data is a goldmine waiting to be exploited. “If we unlock it, we could boost creativity, boost the economy, and boost democratic accountability.

“That’s why we’ve proposed legal changes that will show the way forward on open data. Making data cheaper and easier to re-use, meaning more data sets, with less complicated conditions.

“It’s not just about unlocking new data sets. It’s about promoting a whole new attitude within governments about openness online; creating a new fuel for innovation within our single market,” Kroes said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years