The Obama administration is using “national security” as an excuse to keep a lid on the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Somehow I’m not surprised.
Here’s what happened. Six weeks ago, an American nonprofit filed a Freedom of Information request asking for copies of various documents related to ACTA. Now, in its reply denying the request (PDF), Obama’s foreign trade office is claiming that the documents are “classified in the interest of national security.”
It’s a preposterous claim. ACTA has nothing whatsoever to do with national security. It is a copyright treaty — one that would make penalties for copyright infringement even more severe, and quite possibly invade your privacy and violate your rights in the process. That makes it bad policy, but it’s not even remotely a national security matter. “National security” is simply, and blatantly, being invoked as a quick and easy way to keep a lid on another draconian, unnecessary, and unpopular multilateral trade agreement.
Not that excessive secrecy is anything new when it comes to ACTA. Other parties to the negotations, including Canada and the European Union, have been criticized for refusing to share information about the treaty with their citizens. Last fall, over 100 public interest groups from around the world signed a letter sharply criticizing the secrecy surrounding the treaty process. The EFF is even suing the US government over its refusal to release ACTA-related documents.
Sadly, this sort of closed-door policy development is a growing trend. In the face of several high-profile failures at supposedly “representative” organizations like WIPO and the WTO, not to mention more than fifteen years of broad public opposition, trade negotiations have increasingly been conducted in ways that prevent most of the world’s population from having any real voice. Check out this excellent article on “counterfeit policy-making” for an in-depth analysis of the problem and its consequences. When the White House invokes “national security” to keep ACTA secret, it’s deliberately making international policy development even less democratic than it already was — all for the benefit of the corporate interests that shape government policy in the US and other liberal democracies. Keep that in mind the next time you see a bunch of crazy anarchists marching through the streets: it’s the protesters, not the government policy-makers, who are standing up for your interests.
Ironically, the day after he took office, Obama signed a memorandum committing his administration to “accountability through transparency” and ordering that FOI requests “should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” But when it comes to defending the profits of big business — and make no mistake, that’s what the copyright battle is really all about: protecting outmoded business models that benefit large corporations at our expense — Obama’s White House isn’t going to let a little thing like the public interest stand in its way.