by Stephen Lendman
ACTA's worse than SOPA and PIPA. Net Neutrality and free expression are threatened. In October 2007, negotiations began secretly.
At issue is establishing a new intellectual property enforcement treaty - the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). If adopted, fundamental freedoms will be lost. Privatized online censorship will rule. Internet actors will be copyright enforcers. Offenders will face harsh criminal sanctions.
Transparency's entirely absent. So is major media coverage explaining an issue demanding headlines.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says we've all got a "right to be furious about ACTA." Killing it's essential.
"If there's one thing....wrong with (how) government(s now function), ACTA is it," says EFF. Washington and other dominant countries drafted it. Others are pressured to comply per America's annual Special 301 process.
At issue is establishing new Internet rules, "bypass(ing) checks and balances of existing international IP norm-setting bodies, without any meaningful input from national parliaments, policymakers, or their citizens."
Moreover, the agreement creates a czar-like global "ACTA Committee." Unelected bureaucrats will oversee supranational interpretation and implementation. Arbitrary top-down rule will be imposed. In the process, democratic freedoms will be lost.
On January 26, 22 of 27 EU natons signed ACTA in Tokyo. Many steps remain before ratification. In June, the EU Parliament will vote up or down on approval. Global activism must stop it. Jeremie Zimmerman, spokesperson for the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, said:
"In the last few days, we have seen encouraging protests by Polish and other EU citizens, who are rightly concerned with the effect of ACTA on freedom of expression, access to (generic) medicines (and safe foods), but also access to culture and knowledge."
Anti-ACTA momentum's building. Citizens "must reclaim democracy, against the harmful influence of corporate interests over global policy-making." Acting up against ACTA is crucial.
In December, the Council of the European Union (one of two EU legislative bodies representing all 27 member states) adopted ACTA during an unrelated agriculture and fisheries meeting.
In America, constitutional issues remain. Last October, Obama signed it by "executive agreement." He falsely claimed ACTA's not a treaty requiring Senate approval. By law, executive agreements apply only to sole presidential authority issues. Treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds Senate supermajority.
Obama's stonewalling. He's circumventing legal issues like always. He also broke a campaign pledge to preserve Internet freedom. Instead, he's trashing it by diktat authority.
In 2010, Law Professors Jack Goldsmith and Larry Lessig questioned executive agreement constitutionality, saying:
"The president has no independent constitutional authority over intellectual property or communications policy, and there is no long historical practice of making sole executive agreements in this area. To the contrary, the Constitution gives primary authority over these matters to Congress, which is charged with making laws that regulate foreign commerce and intellectual property."
EFF contributors Eddan Katz and Gwen Hinze called US trade policy and intellectual property (IP) enforcement at a crossroads in governing the global knowledge economy.
Corporate enforcement demands "now threaten to undermine the balance of IP at the foundation of sustainable innovation and creativity. IP enforcement isolated from innovation policy ignore the legal flexibility that enables information technology to emerge, obstructs access to knowledge, and threatens citizens' civil liberties."
ACTA's an extralegal plurilateral agreement bypassing multilateral institutions like the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO) where international IP norms are set. ACTA excludes checks and balances.
In America, presidential diktat authority's circumventing constitutional law. The founders gave executives power solely to negotiate treaties. The Senate alone may pass or reject them. ACTA undermines established law by shutting out Congress and popular sentiment.
Given its impact on America's knowledge economy and Internet, diktat presidential authority must be stopped. If enacted and enforced, corporations will control global Internet traffic. Censorship will follow. Offenders will be prosecuted. Existing laws will be undermined. So will global information flows and constitutionally protected speech.
As a result, open public debate is essential and Senate authority over foreign trade agreements enforced. So is saving constitutional freedoms. Existing laws should be enforced. Presidents have no right to violate them. Congress needs to act and enforce rule of law standards, especially on issues of fundamental freedoms.
US public interest groups and responsible politicians understand ACTA's problems. Others must be enlisted to publicly address them and demand Congress act. European Parliament ACTA rapporteur, Kader Arif, quit in protest, saying:
"I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, (and) exclusion of the EU Parliament's demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly."
"This agreement might have major consequences on citizens' lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade."
Corrupted public officials signed ACTA. Doing so trashed fundamental freedoms in deference to corporate ones bribing and pressuring them to go along. When fundamental freedoms are risked, it's essential everyone get in the fight to save them.
A Final Comment
On January 26, EFF headlined, "Under Obama, the Freedom of Information Act is Still in Shackles," saying:
On his first day in office, Obama's infamous memo promised transparency and open government, saying:
"My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficient and effective(ness) in Government."
Obama's a serial liar. "Openness" was code language for America's most secretive administration. Subverting FOIA is one of many examples of Obama's rogue governance. Secrecy and public trust betrayal trust took precedence immediately.
As a result, vital public information's suppressed. FOIA "deliberative process (DP)" exemptions are abused, including withholding documents dealing with decision making issues. In Obama's first year, he invoked DP exemptions an astonishing 70,779 times.
Moreover, in year two, a National Security Archive study found "less than one-third of the 90 federal agencies that process such FOIA requests have made significant changes in their procedures," even on transparency issues.
Yet when questioned at a town hall meeting, Obama claimed his administration's the most transparent in modern history. Public ignorance lets him get away with it and much more. EFF said government secrecy under Obama reached "absurd (unprecedented) levels."
One of many examples involves a little-known provision of financial reform legislation. It says the SEC "no longer has to comply with virtually all requests for information releases from the public, including those filed under" FOIA requests. No wonder. Wall Street crooks wrote the law to assure business as usual and more.
Similar examples affect many other agencies, including the State Department, DHS, EPA and NASA. In December 2011, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and OpenTheGovernment.org found Obama's administration withheld information one-third more often than Bush in his last year in office. Imagine what's coming if he's reelected.
EFF called his Justice Department's attempt to change FOIA regulations perhaps his worst open government violation. Under a proposed rule, "instead of refusing to confirm or deny a document is in the Department's possession, the agency could 'respond to the request as if the excluded records" don't exist.
Mocking FOIA rights, it authorizes lying. After Congress and public interest groups complained, DOJ softened its rules. However, the Sunlight Foundation said DOJ revisions are still "worse than reported." They let reviewers dismiss requests for trivial reasons.
Obama's systematically trashing rule of law standards affecting domestic and foreign policies. He's killing "the very law (he) championed at the start of his administration." His transparency pledge became "a (sick joke) punch line rather than a re-election slogan."
As a result, freedom's on the chopping block for elimination unless mass public outrage stops it. There's no time to waste doing it, starting with killing ACTA.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.