Documents relating to a proposed international copyright treaty to criminalise online file-sharing have been classified "in the interests of national security" by US President Barack Obama.
The proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) is believed to criminalise the reproduction of copyright material both for and without profit. At present, such activity is a civil matter between the copyright owner and the alleged thief.
It is believed the agreement is aimed at large-scale forgers and unauthorised distributors of copyright material, especially across national borders. It was originally expected to come into play at the end of 2008, but talks have being ongoing.
It is believed the treaty could affect peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, but early documents suggested it gave border guards unprecedented powers to stop and search travellers without warning, and to copy and confiscate any digital material they might have.
The UK Intellectual Property Office, which has been involved in the discussions since they began early last year, has said virtually nothing about the content of those discussions.
It is commonly believed that organisations representing the movie, video, music and publishing industries are behind the proposed treaty.
Civil liberties organisations, including the Electronic Freedom Foundation, have asked for the details of the talks to be made public. So far they have been rebuffed by the Bush administration, and now by Obama.
In a letter in response to a Freedom of Information request from Jamie Love, director of the non-profit group Knowledge Ecology International, Carmen Suro-Bredie, chief FOIA officer in the White House's Office of the US Trade Representative, said the Acta-related materials are "classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958".
The 1995Executive Order 12958 allows material to be classified only if disclosure would do "damage to the national security and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage".
Earlier, the Bush administration turned down an FOIA request from the EFF, saying all but 10 of 806 pages related to the treaty were "classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958".
Love has 30 days to appeal the decision.