Obama Signs Press Control Treaty

             (April 30, 2009) In a surprise move last week President Barack Obama signed a treaty with a broad coalition of nations agreeing to limit "dangerous, derogatory, and politically biased information" from being disseminated across international borders.  The International Treaty on Fair and Responsible Dissemination of Information (which goes by the acronym BS-IDA in its original Chinese title) is intended to stop the flow of "confusing and conflicting news, ideology, and political philosophy" (referred to in the treaty by the acronym IDA) which causes so much rancor and even violence in many countries, particularly those countries which enforce rigid ideological standards and homogeneity of thought such as China, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran.

               The treaty is careful to express respect for the traditions of each of the participating nations and specifically notes that it is not intended to interfere with traditional speech and press activities within the respective nations’ borders, but only to control the flow of IDAs crossing international borders.  The treaty mandates that all media outlets – including bloggers be licensed by their respective governments and that all items which might be categorized as IDAs be reviewed by an international panel and assigned a unique code to be registered in a centralized databank.  These codes would indicate what countries the IDAs could be transmitted to and which countries prohibit such IDAs.  Illicit IDAs could be traced back to the original source by using the code.

While some media companies and individual activists point to the potential for abuse of the powers and regulations promulgated in the treaty, especially in light of the fact that implementation of the treaty would have little if any oversight by Congress or even the U.S. courts, but proponents of the treaty dismiss these concerns as paranoid fear mongering.  An Obama spokesperson offered reassurance:

"President Obama believes that common sense measures to stem the flow of radical and disruptive IDAs into foreign lands in the interest of maintaining the peace and stability of the world community can be achieved while still respecting the First Amendment rights of our citizens."

Some members of the U.S. Senate expressed concern about the wisdom of placing regulatory burdens upon a fundamental, constitutional right under the authority of an international treaty rather than maintaining control of such matters within the Legislative Branch and the checks and balance framework of our constitutional structure.  These concerns, which mainly fall upon strict party lines, are not expected to interfere with ratification of the BS-IDA treaty as enough moderate Republicans are expected to support the treaty to ensure a filibuster-proof majority even if a few disloyal Democrats vote against ratification.  

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Of course the above story is fiction.  No U.S. politician would ever consider placing any aspect of any of our fundamental, constitutional rights under the control of an international treaty – removing the House of Representatives from the deliberative process, mandating the creation of laws and regulations to meet treaty requirements which are open to interpretation, and placing all of these requirements on par with the Constitution of the United States…

Unless the fundamental right in question is the right to arms.

President Obama is advocating for ratification of an arms and ammunition control treaty called CIFTA which was developed during the Clinton administration and signed by President Clinton.  The treaty has among its provisions, requirements that all firearms manufacturers and assemblers be licensed by the government, but it doesn’t clarify whether that includes individuals who build or even just modify firearms for their own use.  It mandates that all ammunition manufacturers be licensed by the government, but again, doesn’t clarify whether hobby reloaders will be considered manufacturers and subject to government oversight.  Perhaps most dangerous, the treaty discusses tracing of firearms, but doesn’t get into specifics about how far traces must be able to go or how quickly they must be able to be acquired, leaving the door open for mandatory registration and computerization of records. 

The U.S. Congress has upon multiple occasions declared that no entity of the federal government may develop or maintain a database of guns and gunowners, but if it is determined by the implementers of this treaty that full registration is required to fulfill the obligations of the treaty, that clearly expressed will of Congress can be swept aside and a registration requirement applied.

As Second Amendment scholar and attorney Dave Hardy has pointed out; "A treaty can do two things. (1) Bind the U.S. to do something it would not otherwise do or (2) Empower Congress to do something it could not otherwise do." 

Either can be scary and a threat under the best of circumstances, but it should never even be considered when there is any chance of the treaty infringing upon fundamental, constitutional rights.

The actual language of the treaty can be found here.   Links to the offices of U.S. Senators to urge them to oppose ratification can be found here.


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©Copyright 2009 Neal Knox Associates