Madison Ruppert, Contributor
The highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations are coming under increased fire from both government officials like Senator Ron Wyden and civil liberties organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
More information on the somewhat mysterious TPP negotiations emerged recently in a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report published by the Federation of American Scientists which can be read here.
In a recent blog post, Sandra Fulton of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office went as far as to call the TPP the “biggest threat to free speech and intellectual property that you’ve never heard of,” which is likely not all that much of an exaggeration.
Others have characterized the TPP as “SOPA on steroids,” referring to the Stop Online Piracy Act which was abandoned thanks to a great deal of public activism. However, it became quite clear that SOPA would not be the end of these efforts.
As the EFF points out in a blog post, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is going above and beyond in the TPP negotiations by not just pushing for the proposed changes to intellectual property law but the USTR is also making a concerted effort to avoid any and all Congressional oversight.
According to the EFF, “the USTR has recently rebuffed a request from the staff director on the Senate Finance Committee’s International Trade Subcommittee to review documents pertaining to the negotiations.”
Speaking out against the USTR’s activities, Senator Ron Wyden, the Chairman of the Subcommittee, wrote that his office “is responsible for conducting oversight over the USTR and trade negotiations.
“To do that, I asked that my staff obtain the proper security credentials to view the information that USTR keeps confidential and secret,” continued Wyden. “This is material that fully describes what the USTR is seeking in the TPP talks on behalf of the American people and on behalf of Congress. More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing.”
In other words, even though Wyden’s staff has already received “the proper security credentials,” they are, for some strange reason, still blocked from actually viewing the details of the proposals.
It is truly tragic when our so-called representatives can’t even know what the government is doing in our name. Clearly there is no regard for transparency (so much for the most transparent administration in history) and even less regard for the rights of the American people.
The EFF recently was able to get a more detailed look at how exactly the ACLU is working to bring transparency and openness to the TPP negotiations directly from Sandra Fulton and Gabe Rottman of the ACLU.
When asked how the TPP relates to the ACLU’s quest to fight for the protection of digital freedoms, the ACLU representatives said, “The TPP relates to the ACLU’s agenda of protecting free speech and privacy online, open government principles and ultimately protecting the Internetas the most open and innovative platform the world has seen.”
“While strong regulations are necessary to protect IP and promote innovation online, these must be crafted carefully and in a fully transparent fashion,” they continued. This is an incredibly important point which must be emphasized. In opposing CISPA, SOPA, the Protect IP Act (PIPA),ACTA, and the TPP, I am not saying that we should not protect intellectual property and online innovation.
To take such a position would be entirely nonsensical since I rely on such protections provided for my work as well.
“We are concerned that an overly broad policy to crackdown on copyright infringement would allow for the takedown of non-infringing content as well, in violation of the First Amendment, which was the same concern presented by SOPA and PIPA,” said the ACLU’s Fulton and Rottman.
“We also have strong concerns over any provision that would create legal incentives for ISPs to step up surveillance of Internet communications in search of suspected copyright infringement, which would potentially endanger the privacy of users. We also believe that whole site takedowns pose serious due process concerns,” they added.
The EFF brings out a quite important point in asking, “No one in the public has had access to the official TPP text. So what do you expect from the US government in regard to the TPP negotiation process moving forward?”
“First of all, we do not believe domestic IP law can or should be changed through international agreements. While the administration insists TPP will not change substantive US law, we are concerned that this will not be the case,” the ACLU responded. “Signing the agreement could make it unnecessarily more difficult for Congress to update copyright laws while staying compliant with new international obligations.”
“If negotiations of an international treaty that could affect domestic enforcement of IP law are to continue they must proceed in an open and fully transparent fashion. All negotiations must take place in a way where all interested parties, including those representing civil society, are able to participate,” said the ACLU.
When asked what the average citizen can do to engage in the TPP negotiation process, the ACLU recommended that citizens contact their representatives directly in order to demand Congressional oversight of the TPP, which is sorely lacking at this point.
They also said that citizens can actually directly lobby the USTR, although I personally think that effort might be a bit less fruitful than going to members of Congress.
“We are very concerned with the President circumventing constitutional checks and balances by wrongly asserting fast track authority in order to negotiate the agreement without Congressional oversight,” said the ACLU in summing up their thoughts on the TPP.
In order for any progress to be made, maximum engagement from citizens is absolutely required. Please use this tool to contact your representative and do not hesitate to call, write letters and emails or even show up at your representative’s office to demand oversight of the TPP negotiations.
We’ve seen that if the people get organized and raise a united voice against a piece of legislation or an issue, there can actually be some significant impact. However, if it is only a few people engaged in actually speaking out, it is much easier to ignore the outrage.
This article first appeared at End the Lie.