Secret Government Talks Create Treaty Stricter Than SOPA, PIPA

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-01-25 Print this article Print

NEWS ANALYSIS: The U.S. Trade Representative apparently negotiated in secret a new intellectual property treaty with restrictions far more onerous than SOPA or PIPA to avoid a congressional review and public objections.

Imagine, if you will, SOPA with even more restrictions than the bill that was shelved by Congress last week. Now imagine that it's administered by a shadowy international organization that has no accountability under U.S. law, but can still order your ISP to monitor your personal communications. Finally imagine that this organization can order you disconnected from the Internet and could also order your ISP offline. Welcome to the ACTA treaty.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which President Barack Obama signed late last year, may do all of those things. Unfortunately, the agreement is so broad and so vague in its provisions that it's not clear exactly what the consequences, intended or unintended, may be. And because ACTA is not being sent to Congress for ratification, unlike other trade agreements such as NAFTA, there will be no hearings, no clarification and no way to know for sure until those consequences land on you without warning.

ACTA is, in effect, a treaty, negotiated in secret by the U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk. While the USTR says that ACTA isn't really a treaty, but instead is an "executive agreement," not subject to ratification, it has all of the earmarks of a treaty. In any case, there's general agreement among Constitutional law experts that such executive agreements are unconstitutional.

Until recently, the actual text of ACTA was so secret that only a few lawyers outside of the White House and the USTR offices had actually seen it. And those people were required to sign non-disclosure agreements. Now that the text of the agreement is finally public (on the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Website, not a site in the United States), the USTR is finally admitting to it. They're also trumpeting all of the letters the USTR has received saying it's a good idea on their own site. If those names on the right side of the screen look familiar, it's because they seem to be identical to the people backing SOPA and PIPA.

The portions of ACTA that exert control over the Internet are, for all practical purposes, SOPA disguised as an international agreement, and with even less recourse for U.S. citizens. Some members of the Internet community, now that they have access to the actual text of the agreement, have begun to object. In Poland, for example, hackers attacked government Websites last week in protest when the government of Poland said it would sign the agreement.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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