Obama made much about the issue of transparency in the run-up to the election, and gives the principle much lip service in the White House web site:
The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.
But do those nice words mean anything? Apparently not:
President Barack Obama came into office in January promising a new era of openness.
But now, like Bush before him, Obama is playing the national security card to hide details of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement being negotiated across the globe.
The White House this week declared (.pdf) the text of the proposed treaty a “properly classified” national security secret, in rejecting a Freedom of Information Act request by Knowledge Ecology International.
“Please be advised the documents you seek are being withheld in full,” wrote Carmen Suro-Bredie [n.b.: Suro-Bredie is a Bush appointee–e_f], chief FOIA officer in the White House’s Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The national security claim is stunning, given that the treaty negotiations have included the 27 member states of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand, all of whom presumably have access to the “classified” information.
Richard Koman at Z-Dnet asks the important question:
OK, just what is so secret about a copyright-protection treaty? There is this proposal – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. It’s a secret and repugnant proposed treaty with some pretty extreme provisions. Only what we know about the provisions is limited to what has leaked out, because the actual terms have been declared a secret.
That’s what the Bush Administration said. And, now, that’s the Obama Administration’s position, too. News.com reports that the Administration has denied a FOIA request for information about the treaty based on a national security rationale.
According to Declan McCullagh’s report:
Love’s group believes that the U.S. and Japan want the treaty to say that willful trademark and copyright infringement on a commercial scale must be subject to criminal sanctions, including infringement that has “no direct or indirect motivation of financial gain.”
Most of what is known comes from a leaked document on WikiLeaks, although speculation includes required ISP monitoring of consumers’ Internet activity, a ban on P2P and criminalization of legitimate IP-sharing activities.
Of course the real crime is that the text of the ACTA is available to many corporations (industry trade groups had substantial input into the document according to documents leaked at wikileaks) and foreign governments, but not to you the taxpayer:
There are number of outstanding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for key documents, by groups like EFF, Public Knowledge, and KEI. In one of our FOIA requests, we asked for 7 specific documents, referenced by the exact title and date of the documents. These documents are the proposals for the text of the agreement.
The texts are available to the Japanese government. They are available to the 27 member states of the European Union. They are available to the governments of Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia. They are available to Morocco, and many other countries. They are available to “cleared” advisers (mostly well connected lobbyists) for the pharmaceutical, software, entertainment and publishing industries. But they are a secret from you, the public.
Today we received this letter from the White House, Office of the United States Trade Representative. Our FOIA request was denied on the grounds that the documents are “information that is properly classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958.”
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are pursuing a 6-month prison term for a Los Angeles man who pleaded guilty in December to one misdemeanor count of uploading pre-release Guns N’ Roses tracks, according to court documents.
Kevin Cogill was arrested last summer at gunpoint and charged with uploading nine tracks of the Chinese Democracy album to his music site — antiquiet.com.