The Weight of Thought

President Barack Obama’s international trade agenda is dead in the water if he doesn’t do a better job engaging with Democrats in Congress, and his administration appears to be getting that message, Democrats said Friday.

Congressional Democrats have often been frustrated by his lack of attention to their concerns, but they’ve been especially disturbed lately that in his grand pivot to Asia and push for a 12-nation trade pact dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they and the rest of Congress largely have been cut out of negotiations.

"We want transparency. We want to see what’s going on there," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters. "We have a problem with that."

As a result, many Democrats fear the actual terms of the deal do not reflect traditional Democratic Party policy priorities.

The Obama administration is secretly negotiating a treaty that could have significant effects on domestic law. Officially, it’s a “free trade” treaty among Pacific rim countries, but a section of the draft agreement leaked in 2011 suggested that it will require signers, including the United States, to make significant changes to copyright law and enforcement measures.

Strangely, the administration seems to be encouraging the public to have a debate on the treaty before they know what’s in it. The Office of the United States Trade Representative has solicited comments about the treaty on its Web site, but there is no particularly detailed information about the content of the agreement, or a draft of the current version of the proposal.

Now, as Maira Sutton at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) notes, the New York Times editorial board has endorsed the TPP. While the editorial acknowledges that some are “worried about provisions on intellectual property that could restrict the availability of generic medicines and grant longer copyright protections to big media companies,” it nevertheless argues that a “good deal” would “not only help individual countries but set an example for global trade talks.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement. The main problems are two-fold:

(1) IP chapter: Leaked draft texts of the agreement show that the IP chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.

(2) Lack of transparency: The entire process has shut out multi-stakeholder participation and is shrouded in secrecy.

The twelve nations currently negotiating the TPP are the US, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam. The TPP contains a chapter on intellectual property covering copyright, trademarks, patents and perhaps, geographical indications. Since the draft text of the agreement has never been offically released to the public, we know from leaked documents, such as the February 2011 draft US TPP IP Rights Chapter [PDF], that US negotiators are pushing for the adoption of copyright measures far more restrictive than currently required by international treaties, including the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

As a pro-marijuana activist, it’s a joy to watch the Berlin Weed Wall come tumbling down. I even found some pleasure this week in Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement for reduced sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.

It’s not everyday some liberty is yielded back to the people, however small.  Yet my joy is tempered by cynicism.

The private prison-industrial complex could not have been happy with Holder’s recent announcement, but there’s a strange silence. There’s not a single bought-and-paid-for politician coming to the defense of longer prison terms for non-violent drug offenders. So what gives?

Surely there must be intense lobbying efforts underway to stop this.  I mean, any industry evil enough to bribe judges to throw innocent children in cages would clearly scratch and claw for every dollar of potential profit, right?

But what if they can replace drug offenders with other warm bodies — like copyright offenders (file sharers)? The NSA likely has a whole list of offenders ready to go. They’re an easy target as they don’t typically travel in armed cartels. Who cares that they, too, are non-violent offenders? Make file sharing a felony, says the Obama Administration.

The Washington Post reports:
You probably remember the online outrage over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) copyright enforcement proposal. Last week, the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force released a report on digital copyright policy that endorsed one piece of the controversial proposal: making the streaming of copyrighted works a felony.

The Digital Rights Struggle wont be Televized because dinosaurs would never help the mammals claim the land of thier dominion

On Tuesday, the Texas House added three amendments to the CISPA-like bill flying through the Legislature. Clearly, all the attention now directed at this terrible bill is spurring action by state lawmakers. But the amendments completely fail to address the bill’s serious privacy violations and some make the bill even worse.

Amendment 2

This amendment changes the target of government seizures from “an electronic communications service” to a “remote computing service”. All this does is make it more clear that websites not based in Texas are going to be forced to comply with this bill.

The amendment also appears to remove the limit on how far back the state could seize personal records. The bill previously only applied to electronic communication that was less than 180 days old (so it prevented really old fishing expeditions). Under this version of the bill, it appears the government could seize years - or even the totality - of a person’s online communication. This is a terrible change.

The amendment also made an important change by removing the ability of a “Designated law enforcement office or agency” to collect the data, leaving it to authorized peace officers. But this doesn’t improve the bill very much - authorized peace officers are state agents who also should not be empowered with these broad abilities to seize private communications. It removes the ability for some political hack in a specific office or agency to file a request for electronic information - which is a good thing - but doesn’t address the glaring privacy violations in this bill.

New tax records reveal that the RIAA has made heavy employee cuts after revenue dropped to a new low. Over the past two years the major record labels have cut back their membership dues from $33.6 to $23.6 million. RIAA staff plunged from 107 to 60 workers in the same period. The IRS filing further shows that the music industry group paid $250,000 to the six strikes anti-piracy system.

The Texas CISPA bill, approved unanimously by the House last week, may be passed by the Legislature within 24 hours. It has been scheduled for a vote on Monday.

The bill, now slightly altered SB 1052 in the Senate, does the following:

  • Requires any Internet provider that serves Texans to hand over private communication and files.
  • Sets no standard for warrants for such seizures, enabling arbitrary violations of Texans’ privacy.
  • Forces Internet providers to respond within 15-30 days (and sometimes 4-30), giving them almost no time to protect information not targeted.
  • Makes it a crime for an officer, director or owner of a company to not comply with the request within the 15-30 day window.
  • Opens the door to politically-motivated seizures of online communication.
CISPA has already passed the House of Representatives!!!!

CISPA has already passed the House of Representatives!!!!

Another day, another House Intelligence Committee session held in secret, under the rather convenient excuse that “classified information” might be revealed.

As was the case last year when members of the committee amended the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) the first time around — the bill, dubbed a “privacy killer” by online activists and privacy groups, will once again be amended in a veil of secrecy.

According to the committee’s spokesperson, Susan Phalen, (via The Hill), these secret hearings are not uncommon and “sometimes they’ll need to bounce into classified information and go closed for a period of time to talk.”

She said that in order to keep the flow of the mark-up — where rewrites to proposed legislation are made — the committee cannot suddenly stop, order every person and member of the media out of the chamber, only to be brought back in later once the discussions are back on unclassified territory.