Sunday, March 15, 2009

Copyright treaty classified on national security grounds

The U.S. government is negotiating the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a treaty which imposes new controls over copyright, but refuses to let the general public know its specific content. In response to a Freedom of Information Act Request from Knowledge Ecology International, the Obama administration responded that the content is classified for national security reasons pursuant to Executive Order 12958, a Clinton order from 1995.

As Declan McCullagh points out, the executive order "allows material to be classified only if disclosure would do 'damage to the national security and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage.'" He also points out that one of Obama's first acts as president was to sign a memo that said that FOIA "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."

The claim that this treaty cannot be disclosed for national security reasons sounds bogus, but if it's so, what's the purported damage being prevented? In the absence of a clear rationale, this treaty should be openly discussed and available to the general public.

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