It was a dark, cloudy day in Tokyo as powerful leaders from more than eight countries met to execute a treaty that had until recently been shrouded in secrecy. The agreement would give them sweeping powers of cross-border surveillance, invasive search, and arrest without probable cause or due process. Special interests, knowing that they would never get such measures through congress, characterized the treaty as an executive agreement in order to commit the United States public without congressional oversight or legislation. This move, known as policy laundering, will enable them to later demand that senators ratify the treaty even though it effectively creates a governing body outside of national institutions. Many of these same interests again convened on Jan 31st at an ultra private meeting at The Sofitel in Los Angeles to discuss a secret government document, marked “protected from unauthorized disclosure”.
Certainly national interests must be at stake. Terrorists are attacking and desperate times call for desperate measures. Broad international cooperation to bring globetrotting criminals to justice. Swift, decisive mechanisms to capture rouge elements that hide among us.
Sadly, this is not the case.
The treaty that was executed in Tokyo, ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), was ratified by the US last October, and signed by EU member states last week amid international demonstrations and public outcry. In addition to the treaty, individual countries are attempting to enact their own draconian legislation such as Canada’s C-11 and Irelands SI-337. Meanwhile, policy laundering efforts in the US continue unfettered, judging by the draft of secret chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that creates new global norms that are contrary to US legal traditions.
These agreements have nothing to do with your well-being. They are about the interests of a privileged few who have the luxury to propel government policy from corporate ivory towers. As our societies become more and more engaged online, our lives are transforming into the very information that is the fabric of digital space. And some have realized that in order to preserve and amass more wealth they must control the flow of that information.
They understand all too well that there are only so many times that we will stand together SOPA-style before losing interest in a drawn out paper battle that consistently sacrifices the precious attention we normally devote to family and work. And domination of the global information, software and services we consume is an opportunity too lucrative to pass up.
So what can be done to preserve the freedoms of the average net-citizen in the new age of information? Although we have heard a number of well thought-out ideas for vocal protests, coordinated dissidence, better governance, and campaign finance reform, frankly I remain skeptical. I will have to dedicate another discussion to reasonable steps that you can take to both protect your privacy in the short term and help create an online environment where it is difficult for special interests to impede the freedom of information.
Until next time,
Tamer Rizk, Inficron