Obama Administration Declares Proposed IP Treaty a ‘National Security’ Secret

By David Kravets |

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, 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.

In early January, the Bush administration made the same claim in rejecting (.pdf) a similar FOIA request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

If ratified, leaked documents posted on WikiLeaks and other comments suggest the proposed trade accord would criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and allow internet service providers to monitor their customers’ communications.

In his first days in office, Obama publicly committed himself to transparency, instructing government agencies to err on the side of public access and divulge information whenever possible under the Freedom of Information Act. Obama recently released a trove of documents relating to the Bush administration’s rational for torture of enemy combatants and other abuses.

At the same time, though, Justice Department lawyers have been arguing in court that the “state secrets privilege” should bar lawsuits over the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.