Back in March, when the US State Department responded
to Ron Wyden's questions
about the feds' authority to negotiate and sign onto ACTA without Congressional approval (damn you, Constitution
), it made an odd (and rather new) claim: that Congress had actually already approved the executive branch's ability to negotiate and approve international agreements on intellectual property issues. The claim was that the ProIP Act (of 2008) said the newly appointed IP Czar should create a joint strategic plan which, among other things, helps identify how the administration can deal with IP enforcement issues by "working with other countries to establish international standards and policies for the effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights."
Yes, because Congress said that the IP Czar should create a strategic plan in which the administration can work with other countries on IP enforcement, the administration now claims that Congress effectively abdicated its powers over international commerce on that issue, despite it never clearly stating that.
Given that strained interpretation, Wyden has noticed that the new cybersecurity bill
that the Senate is considering could be broadly interpreted in the same manner to create all sorts of powers for the administration to ignore Congress in crafting international agreements concerning online security. He's now sent the State Department a letter asking for clarification
. Here's the key part:
Do these provisions, or any others, in S. 3414 authorize the Executive Branch to enter into binding agreements with foreign governments for the purposes of establishing disciplines on cybersecurity? If so, under what circumstances would Congress need to consider such agreements and under what circumstances would you argue that Congress need not consider such agreements? If S. 3414 does not authorize the Executive Branch to enter into binding international agreements over cybersecurity without Congress' consideration of such an agreement, how do you square this view with your interpretation of the Pro IP Act of 2008?
In other words: Wyden is calling the State Department on its bullshit retroactive interpretation of Pro IP by noting that if they truly believe it, then the new cybersecurity bill would effectively mean Congress gives up its powers to have oversight on any international agreements about cybersecurity -- something the administration almost certainly does not
want, since that would spark a debate that would likely hold up approval of the bill. The State Department, of course, wants it both ways. It wants to claim that the Pro IP gave the administration the power to ignore the Constitution with IP issues, but the same is not true of the cybersecurity bill. But that would involve ignoring that the same language is present in both bills.
I fully expect that the State Department will now seek to tapdance its way around this -- or (more likely) not answer until after the cybersecurity debate is over.