Obama administration: releasing details of secret copyright treaty endangers "national security"

The White House is refusing to release documents about the secretive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a super-maximal copyright treaty that a bunch of rich countries are negotiating behind closed doors to escape the activists who've started to report on their shenanigans at the UN's World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Incredibly, the Obama administration claims that disclosing the details of this secret copyright law would endanger "national security."

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, 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.

Obama Administration Declares Proposed IP Treaty a 'National Security' Secret (Thanks, Javier!)


  1. I tell ya: corporate sponsorship of political parties has got to stop!

    Severely limited individual donations and government subsidy based on the previous elections vote. If you can’t breathe, you don’t get to give money to political parties.

  2. Dick Cheney smiling? Perhaps – But Obama sure is smiling a lot. Democrats are the party of the MPAA, not the Republicans.

    Corporate sponsorship? But Obama was funded by millions of Americans sharing their little donations? Where is his concern for the little guy? Where is his concern for the tech community that adores him?

    The irony seeing this on Boing Boing after two years worshipping O would be delicious if the side effects for everyone weren’t so painful.

  3. Does the Senate get to see it before voting on ratification, or do the Senators simply get ordered how to vote?

  4. It is sad that so many people voted for him, expecting change.

    At least he looks good as he lies to us.

  5. On these issues, the inside word is that the Obama Admin will be substantially better than GWB’s on patent reform (software and pharma) and net neutrality — but as bad or worse on copyright itself.

  6. A quick google search points out that Ms. Carmen Suro-Bredie is a hold over from the Bush administration. Sadly not all positions are carefully looked over during a transition. Hopefully, after this, the Obama Admin will give her some walking papers.

  7. Patent reform in pharma? In the wake of the Obama budget, the coming era of Washington-run healthcare, price controls, gov’t rationing, etc. is gonna kill drug innovation. I fear that’s Obama’s patent reform.

  8. When does the “Change” happen? So far everythings been like past administrations.

    Are they just going to claim national security for anything they don’t want people to be pay attention to?

  9. This is a pretty tried-and-tested tactic of the Bush Administration, during which more files were classified as confidential for “reasons of national security” than under any previous administration. And the problem is, there’s nothing that can be done to get round it – no appeals process, no transparent assessment programme for dictating what can and can’t be considered an issue of “national security”.

    With a tool that’s that easy to use, what government wouldn’t be tempted to use it, rather than face criticism?

  10. Obama has already backed telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping. Now he pulls the national security card for an abusive copyright treaty and you still believe he will pony up for net neutrality. Give us a break.

  11. When will all the elites finally get together and murder the internet already? I guess that’s what they’re trying for right now. I’m just tired of waiting for it.

    Stab net neutrality through the heart already, you corporate, plutocratic wankers.

  12. Why, oh why, did anyone think things were going to change? Change you can believe in? Puleezzeee!

    Democrat= Republican in terms of secretiveness and swarthiness. Big money and special interests – both are ruled by them, even the MSM still has the stones to report this.

    Labor leaders have become drunk on their power, forgetting who sends them dues to pay for their excesses. If workers really want to be heard, take up the fight against your own figureheads – all they’ve done is just pick one big fist over the other. It doesn’t matter if it’s the right or the left fist, it’s still a fist.

  13. 13STRONG said:

    This is a pretty tried-and-tested tactic of the Bush Administration, during which more files were classified as confidential for “reasons of national security” than under any previous administration.

    The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in 1966 by LBJ. Before then, I assume requests to the government could be ignored without a formal response that could be tallied up and used to “score” an administration as 13STRONG did.

    Back in the early 1940’s, I bet FDR would have denied lots of Freedom of Information Act requests about that Boy’s camp in New Mexico, the large facilities in TN and WA, and that Lab Fermi set-up under the college stadium in Chicago. The FoIA only covered LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations.

    Also, 13STRONG is likely counting the number of requests denied, not the number of documents they “protected for reasons of national security”. Multiple requests for the same document should really count once, but the counter is incremented for every grass-roots organization and private citizen that issues a request for the same document, and that’s fine – just understand what you are comparing.

    Did Bush exert “National Security protection” more than previous adminsitrations – probably – but the measurements being cited by 13STRONG and others are for a limited sample size and likely don’t even cover fifty years.

  14. Just another link, it seems that today the FBI earned a dubious award for it’s failure to respond to about two-thirds of the FoIA requests it receives.

  15. The DMCA – wasn’t that Clinton’s administration? Trillions in war debt, wasn’t that the Republicans?
    However, I guess party politics aren’t really the issue here.

    The real shocker is the degree of crappiness of proposed intellectual property law – it seems like every time legislators sit down to look at IP, they leave their brains in their limos. They certainly can’t be trusted to come up with anything reasonable in this private confab.


    Thanks for the clarification. Just to be clear, my post wasn’t meant as an “Oh, those pesky Republicans” thing, or an “Obama is still better” thing. It was actually meant to point out that

    a) this is a tactic that previous administrations have used to great effect
    b) the system of classifying documents is deeply flawed and open to all kinds of abuse
    c) Obama’s administration is, predictably, taking full advantage of this system, as would any government

    I was basing my comments on an article from the journal Index on Censorship, about the Bush Administration’s use of classification to avoid FOI requests on controversial issues. I’ll see if I can find a link.

    Thanks for the clarification though.

  17. Nice to see all the trolls stop by and proudly drop their turds.

    Obama is a right of center Democrat. I’ve always known that and never harbored any illusions about who he was. I supported Hillary in the primaries because her health care proposals were much better than Obama’s. It IS possible to support someone and yet not agree on every policy.

    Authoritarians have trouble doing that. For them everything is either/or, black or white, you’re either with us or against us. Others do not have such a simplistic response to the world.

  18. Don’t just post here – *do* something about it.

    I’ve already posted to Whitehouse.gov and called the main switchboard. This kind of thing won’t stop because we mope and say “they’re all the same”. It stops because we let leaders know we give a crap about our own rights.

  19. 13STRONG – To repeat, I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m reminding folks of the limitiations inherent in this comparison.


    The DMCA – wasn’t that Clinton’s administration?

    Yup. From http://www.copyright.gov:

    The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law by President Clinton on October 28, 1998. The legislation implements two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties: the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. The DMCA also addresses a number of other significant copyright-related issues.

  20. So how many people would it take to inundate FOIA with requests for the document. If perhaps 20 million Americans were inquiring about the document that might send a message?

  21. “Where’s your Messiah now?”

    He’s over there, playing with a squeaky toy and licking himself.

    When you keep your expectations low, you’re rarely disappointed.

  22. From Wikipedia, the European Commission’s response to criticisms over secrecy:

    “It is alleged that the negotiations are undertaken under a veil of secrecy. This is not correct. For reasons of efficiency, it is only natural that intergovernmental negotiations dealing with issues that have an economic impact, do not take place in public and that negotiators are bound by a certain level of discretion. However, there has never been any intention to hide the fact that negotiations took place, or to conceal the ultimate objectives of the negotiations, the positions taken in European Commission Trade 5/6 the negotiations or even details on when and where these negotiations are taking place. The EU and other partners (US, Japan, Canada, etc.) announced their intention to start negotiations of ACTA on 23 October 2007, in well publicised press releases. Since then we have talked about ACTA on dozens of occasions, including at the European Parliament (INTA committee meetings), and in numerous well attended seminars. Commission organised a stakeholders’ consultation meeting on 23 June in Brussels, open to all – industry and citizens and attended by more than 100 participants. US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other ACTA partners did the same. Civil society input will continue to be taken into consideration during the negotiations and further stakeholder meetings will be organised.”

  23. This is pretty shocking. I can’t make any sense of why such negotiations would be secret. It’s an absurdity. But this kind of power consolidation is very difficult to stop. It picked up enormous steam with Bush and now it just keeps rolling.

    I don’t know how many time to say it, but when you get this kind of hero worship around a presidential candidate and combine it with clearly fascist artistic images of the candidate, you end up in a situation where you can’t see clearly anymore.

    I like Obama in general, but I think there’s something rolling along here that is much larger and more powerful than him. I also like copyright in general, but not the perversion of it that seems to be taking hold.

  24. I took the “Obama” logo magnet off the back of my car on January 20th, knowing full well that no president would have my support on every issue (also the reason I didn’t get a bumper sticker instead). Disappointed in decisions like this one? Sure. Surprised? Not really. Regretful for supporting Obama over McCain? HELL NO.

  25. “However, there has never been any intention to hide the fact that negotiations took place, or to conceal the ultimate objectives of the negotiations, the positions taken in European Commission Trade 5/6 the negotiations or even details on when and where these negotiations are taking place.”

    Well, why hide the fact that they’re taking place when nobody can find out what’s going on in them anyway?

    I mean, what?

  26. Is it possible — just possible — that this policy is NOT a result of something coming from the Obama White House? As in, The President isn’t actually making such individual choices himself? As in, this is why he has subordinates, and some of them are not actually oin the same page yet? It sure seems like that is what is going on here.

    Once the public outcry goes up, then this will be reversed, as it should be.

    That is what I’m expecting. Of course, nobody who’s yelling “same as the old boss” and “what change?” will actually notice this.

  27. “Well, why hide the fact that they’re taking place when nobody can find out what’s going on in them anyway?”

    Well, “what’s going on in them” as far as the nuts and bolts of specific offers and proposals is not public, but I think the point is that the goals of what they’re trying to accomplish overall are not and never have been secret. I don’t know why this is suprising to anyone. Since when are any international negotiations ever public?

    Don’t get me wrong. From what I’ve read about the AFTA (which I managed to do pretty easily despite the “secrecy”), it’s got some pretty stupid components, which should be fought. But, per usual, the boingers get outraged over the wrong thing…

  28. White House = lots of people. Also used pretty much as blanket term for whole gov. also the only way to get a politician to agree with you totally is to get into politics yourself.

  29. Treaties are negotiated by the executive branch. Negotiations are always kept secret, to make it possible to actually negotiate. If a treaty is signed, then it has to be ratified by Congress and that’s when everything is made public. That’s when we get to pressure the government not to enact anything that makes us less free or threatens to stifle sharing and innovation.

  30. The reality is that All security classifications of documents flows down from the President. As do security clearances. By definition, the President has the highest security clearance in this country. His past doesn’t matter. If he declares his dinner menu top-secret, then it is. So he can declare a treaty text as classified no matter who has seen it or negotiated it. He has that power. Absolutely. But that only limits access by US citizens. The other countries who have copies are still free to distribute it or not as they see fit; they are not bound by our security clearance laws.


    Once the public outcry goes up, then this will be reversed, as it should be.

    That is what I’m expecting. Of course, nobody who’s yelling “same as the old boss” and “what change?” will actually notice this.

    As the poster of the “Meet the new boss” post, let me point out that that is exactly the kind of outcry you claim will bring about the ultimate change you fully expect to happen, right? So, my post is part of the noise that brings the various parts of his government that aren’t “on message” to light, allowing him to focus and get them on the same page…

    Seems to me I’m helping to bring about the change as one part of a healthy process called “feedback”, and your dismissing my feedback is counter-productive (or at least not productive, doesn’t push the argument forward).

  32. It’s a bit weird how this serious issue, worthy of consideration and action gets drowned out and diluted by insane Republican rhetoric purporting to oppose the treaty.

    In case it isn’t obvious, the blustery rhetoric is interfering with serious discussion.

  33. So, when can we start taking to the streets to protest the Dictatorial policies of Obama?

    Because half of my friends still believe he craps gold…

    Worthless tyrannical scum, just like his predecessor.

  34. The security in question is in relation to their ability to make treaties without having the public get pissed off at the stupid stuff that’s going into it and demand changes be made BEFORE they’re signed.

  35. ok could someone please clarify something here. When I think “counterfeiting” I think about currency/money. In my mind it is not interchangeable with copyright. But this article assumes that they’re synonymous. The security of any country’s currency certainly is a matter or national security. This article is muddled and confusing and below the standards I expect here.

  36. Stay on-topic and remain polite, please. Tired memes, sloganeering and empty partisan posturing don’t qualify. And the schadenfreude quotient for this thread has already been reached.

  37. LAKELADY – Counterfeiting is a serious problem, not just for software, currency, consumer goods, but also medicines, airplane parts, etc. The danger isn’t just the loss of revenue to the Mfg., but also safety implications. Imagine getting a knock-off pacemaker installed? Pills that aren’t what they claim to be, airplane parts that haven’t been tested, etc…

  38. Imagine a world where heart surgeons, pharmacists, and certified jet mechanics are on the take and out to get you, all to make a quick buck.

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