Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why the TPP is Dangerous: Digital Privacy & Rights Under Attack

by Dave Felice
Dave Felice
Negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are shrouded in secrecy.  Despite nearly twenty rounds of negotiations, both the public and many policymakers still lack a full audit of what’s in the proposed trade pact.  Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) provides some information; additional content is leaked from other sources.  What we do know about the TPP is disturbing for many Americans.
Across the ideological spectrum, many voices are speaking out against the TPP.  Even Tea Party supporters raise legitimate concerns about deficient congressional oversight over the TPP and the trade pact’s potential impact on our national sovereignty.  Labor leaders note that the TPP would accelerate off-shoring trends, export jobs, and benefit corporate interests at the expense of American workers.  Human rights organizations highlight how TPP would give trade benefits to Vietnam, a totalitarian nation that still uses child labor in its apparel manufacturing industry.
In Colorado and around the country, industries, from dairy to beef to sugar, worry about the long-term effects of the TPP on their American producers and workers.  And from environmental groups to anti-tobacco organizations, many issue advocates fear that passing TPP would create a race to the bottom that lowers standards and undercuts progress on critical health, environmental, and safety priorities.
Alongside all of these voices and issues, we should not lose sight of how the TPP could curtail digital privacy and online freedoms.  In fact, some of the same corporate backers behind the infamous Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) are now hoping to use the TPP to advance similar goals and restrictions – with similar consequences at stake.
Many people fervently organized against SOPA in 2011 and 2012.  Opponents, including Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), recognized that SOPA would establish a dangerous new beachhead for governments to censor technology and communications platforms.  SOPA would have harmed free speech and created massive unintended consequences, while being an overly blunt instrument against the online piracy and copyright concerns that drove the legislation forward in the first place. 
The TPP is set to repeat many of the same mistakes.  Its worrisome details include provisions that could make downloading music a crime punishable by imprisonment.  There is language which facilitates new and Draconian measures to allow Internet Service Providers to kick users off their internet connection after accusations of copyright infringement.  New copyright restrictions on incidental “buffer copies” would force routine online proceedings to require licensing approval from the copyright owner and expose consumers to increased liability.
The TPP treats copyright law as a blunt instrument, neglecting to include critical limitations and exceptions to copyright, adversely impacting fair use, preservation by libraries, and translations of works into formats accessible for the disabled.  Similarly, while the TPP focuses on copyright laws and patent issues, it lacks consumer protections established through intellectual property laws.
Activism against SOPA took many forms.   Google, Wikipedia, and other major Internet services joined a blackout in January 2012 that helped to signal the death knell for SOPA legislation.  Months of activism from an unusual mix of digital advocates, the tech community, First Amendment experts, students and everyday citizens preceded the blackout.  Their education and dedication helped to sway policymakers to do the right thing.
Now, Congressman Polis leads a bipartisan group calling for greater openness of the intellectual property provisions of the TPP, saying “We must insure our trade policy is transparent and balanced.”
At a minimum, Congress should use its constitutional authority to fully and openly scrutinize the TPP.  Congress must also reject efforts by the administration of Barack Obama to pursue “Fast Track” authorization to ratify the pact without legislative involvement. Absolutely critical questions about the TPP, such as what the deal would mean for digital rights and protections, must be answered before we move forward.

Dave Felice, in addition to being a Featured Contributor at Denver Direct, is a customer service technician in information technology, and a member of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7777 in Denver.


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