Checks? Balances? Nope.

By Luke Wilusz

A Senator has openly argued against President Barack Obama’s position regarding the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The treaty would implement an international copyright enforcement policy that could include border searches, criminal prosecution for violators and statutory monetary damages to be awarded to copyright holders.

On March 20, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) released a statement saying the administration should seek Congress’ approval for the treaty before ratifying it in the U.S. “I believe Congress should approve binding international agreements before the U.S. is obligated to comply with those agreements,” Wyden wrote in a statement.

The Obama administration claims that Congressional approval for the treaty is unnecessary. The argument is that Congress delegated this authority to the executive branch under a 2008 measure called the PRO-IP Act. The treaty was also allegedly negotiated to be in line with current U.S. law, so there’s supposedly no need to involve Congress. Apparently we should just trust the word of the people who have been brokering this deal largely in secret for the past several years.

The stipulations of the treaty could affect every single U.S. citizen who has ever consumed digital media in any way. To push those kinds of regulations on an entire nation without even consulting the citizens’ elected representatives seems like it ought to be blatantly illegal. Some might even throw around the word “unconstitutional.”

Any eighth-grade student knows that we have three distinct branches in our federal government that enact a system of checks and balances. More specifically, the goal is to ensure that no single branch makes decisions with significant, far-reaching consequences without some input and review from the other branches.

The fact that the treaty is in line with current U.S. law shouldn’t preclude Congressional review. If Congress wanted to revise our current copyright laws after the treaty was ratified, it could theoretically find its ability to enact laws for the country hindered by an international agreement that it had no say in adopting. You can call me old-fashioned, but that’s not how I thought a democratic system was supposed to work.

Then again, the president is also supposed to get Congressional approval before waging in military action overseas, but that hasn’t stopped us from engaging in armed conflicts in Libya and Afghanistan, so maybe this stuff isn’t as important as I’ve always thought.