Why do government websites suck

Protests against Acta: offline demos against network control

Tens of thousands demonstrated across Europe against the Acta agreement. They fear greater control of the internet.

Anti-Acta demonstrators in Berlin. Image: dpa

DÜSSELDORF / BERLIN taz | If you could now look behind Peter's Anonymous mask, you would see him smiling with satisfaction. "So many haven't been on the streets here since the first Occupy demo in the fall."

The 19-year-old is standing in the midst of around 2,000 people on Düsseldorf's Heinrich-Heine-Platz on Saturday. Especially young people are here, they wear "Stop ACTA" signs or the white masks, like Peter. It is the Facebook youth, decried as lacking motivation, who are defending their Internet here.

Tens of thousands demonstrated across Europe over the weekend. They are calling for the anti-piracy trade agreement (ACTA) to be stopped. This is supposed to improve the protection of intellectual property, but critics fear excessive surveillance on the Internet. "ACTA has nothing to do with copyright," believes Peter. "It's about increasing control over the Internet." The student is wearing a green flag with the Anonymous logo, a headless suit bearer. He is not politically organized, but he has sympathy for the Hackerbund. "Freedom of expression, that's what it's about," he says.

Düsseldorf is only one of 55 German cities in which demonstrations against the agreement took place on Saturday. Among other things, the PFUSSBALL pirate party and parts of the "Occupy" movement called.

Broad spectrum

Around 10,000 ACTA opponents gathered on Alexanderplatz in Berlin. "ACTA - the rule of law was yesterday", "Freedom instead of ACTA" and "Thought police" are written on banners.

"We fought online for years, now we're going out on the streets," said Stefan Urbach from the Telecomix network activist group, welcoming the demonstrators. In 2011 Telecomix supported the Arab Spring in bypassing network barriers and is now mobilizing against ACTA. Wikimedia's Jan Engelheim calls for the agreement to be stopped. "The CDU has no relationship to the culture of sharing on the Internet," said the representative of the Wikipedia sponsoring association at the opening rally.

The demo train passes the headquarters of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). The IFPA is a lobby organization that campaigns against music piracy and for data retention. "Today is just the beginning, IFPI and the like can be prepared for that", the loudspeaker truck echoes, the demonstrators demand a "right to remix" and a "right to file sharing".

The spectrum of ACTA opponents is broad: There is a "property-critical" left-wing radical block, but also the DigitalFUSSBALLe Gesellschaft initiative, which strives for a "fair balance" between authors and consumers.

Many young people

Many young people in particular protest against ACTA - in contrast to the annual anti-surveillance demonstration "Freedom instead of fear", which is now dominated by more established network political activists. "The Internet is important to us," says Ceren from Neukölln.

The 18-year-old came to the demo with her friend Melisa. "Then I can no longer see everything on YouTube," says 12-year-old Jakob. ACTA politicizes a very young generation of internet users. The final rally is like a mixture of education strike demonstration and techno parade.

In other EU countries, too, activists for freedom on the internet took to the streets. "We no longer feel safe. The net was one of the few places where we could move freely," said a 26-year-old programmer in Bucharest.

There were also demonstrations against ACTA in Sofia, Tallinn, Prague and Warsaw. The protest movement is growing rapidly, especially in Eastern Europe: the opponents of the agreement draw comparisons with the surveillance systems in the communist states of the time. (with material from Reuters)