New trade deal jeopardizes Internet freedom, two groups say

Two organizations that try to protect Internet freedom say that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal will rewrite global rules on intellectual property enforcement and restrict the public domain.

The organizations are the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange network.

The two groups said that the proposed Pacific trade pact endangers the Internet and digital freedoms on par with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and the Protect Intellectual Property Act. All three of those measures re highly controversial U.S. laws.

The groups said that the trade pact would hurt Internet freedom in two significant ways: First, its intellectual property chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedoms and innovation, and second, the entire process has shut out multi-stakeholder participation and is shrouded in secrecy, they said.

As of now, corporate lobbyists are the only ones who have been officially invited to contribute and access the negotiating text, the two organizations said. The George Bush administration initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations back in 2008, but closed door sessions over this powerful multi-national trade agreement have continued under the Obama administration, led by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, they added. Governments are characterizing this as a free trade agreement, but its effects will go far beyond trade, they said.
U.S. Reps. Ron Wyden and Darrell Issa insist that the American people have a right to know what the United States is seeking in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with respect to intellectual property rights, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The two have co-authored a letter to Ron Kirk, the head of the Office of the United States Trade Representative that is leading the U.S. delegation in the negotiations, asking him to reveal what his office is seeking in the intellectual property chapter.

Sections related to intellectual property rights could impact how people gain access to the Internet and could constrain what people may say online or how they can collaborate and share content, said the pair, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It is imperative that the property rights chapter of the proposed agreement not inappropriately constrain online activity, said the letter. Poorly-constructed drafts that erode Internet freedom could impede innovation, economic growth, and speech, it said.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation gave this summary of the letter in a release:

Given the Internet’s increasing role in facilitating American exports of digital goods and services, it is crucial that negotiators do not tip the balance in intellectual property enforcement in a way that will only further restrict Internet freedoms and users’ digital rights.

The letter concludes with their request that the U.S. trade representative convey to the American people whether other obligations they are pursuing in the agreement will promote an open and free Internet, said the foundation.

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