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United States International Access

Secretive Lobby Groups are getting Secret Access to this Secret Agreement to Secretly Criminalize Internet Users

As U.S. President Barack Obama talks trade and geopolitics in Japan and East Asia, mainstream press coverage of the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) isn’t telling the full story. Articles mainly focus on domestic politics, or a “U.S. vs. Japan” boxing match narrative about tariffs on autos, beef, rice, and wheat. While it’s nice that Obama’s trip has finally given big media outlets a reason to cover the TPP, they’re doing their readers a great disservice by calling it a “trade deal”. The TPP could better be described as a giant exercise in policy laundering, where unpopular political decisions are made by secret agreement to provide plausible deniability for those involved. So while there are certainly a number of provisions in the TPP that cover tariffs and trade, the leaked drafts we’ve seen read like an industry lobbyist wish list.

As U.S. President Barack Obama talks trade and geopolitics in Japan and East Asia, mainstream press coverage of the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) isn’t telling the full story. Articles mainly focus on domestic politics, or a “U.S. vs. Japan” boxing match narrative about tariffs on autos, beef, rice, and wheat.

 

While it’s nice that Obama’s trip has finally given big media outlets a reason to cover the TPP, they’re doing their readers a great disservice by calling it a “trade deal”. The TPP could better be described as a giant exercise in policy laundering, where unpopular political decisions are made by secret agreement to provide plausible deniability for those involved. So while there are certainly a number of provisions in the TPP that cover tariffs and trade, the leaked drafts we’ve seen read like an industry lobbyist wish list.

 

If this sounds nefarious, it’s because it is. You’ll hear a few arguments as to why these negotiations have locked out the public (and public interest groups) yet given unprecedented access to lobbyists from legacy businesses like old media conglomerates. Let’s talk about why those arguments are wrong.

 

Lobbyists and bureaucrats claim they need privacy from media and public scrutiny in order to preserve the secrecy of their negotiating positions. The trouble is, countries like the U.S., Canada, and Australia have already been caught spying on world leaders and key government ministries of other nations. Claims that this is for “security” reasons were blown out of the water by recent revelations that Canada’s spy agency CSEC was caught red-handed spying on Brazil’s key mining and industry ministry.

 

Another false argument for secrecy is that the government risks exposing the trade secrets of the industrial sectors they’ve been consulting while developing negotiating positions (I’ll generously call it consulting, but a glance at the leaked TPP documents highlights how shadowy and powerful industry lobbyists are really calling the shots here). But as Access to Information documents show, the government won’t even disclose the full list of lobbyists who are being allowed input.

 

Think about that for a second. These powerful lobbyists are cooking up deals that will affect all of our lives - yet we don’t even get to know their names, or which giant conglomerates they’re working for. We can all agree that this level of secrecy is excessive and runs counter to the public interest. If we care more about protecting trade secrets of old media conglomerates than the public’s basic democratic right to transparency about decisions that affect us, then we’re doing it all wrong.

 

An OpenMedia community member requested documents from the Canadian government to shed light on the secretive TPP process and forwarded them to us. What we got was walls of redacted blacked-out text, mundane emails, and a copy of the non-disclosure agreement that lobbyists signed promising they wouldn’t talk about their talks with TPP bureaucrats. Have a look for yourself:

 

 

All these redactions are emblematic of the entire TPP process so far. The TPP is being kept so secret because the bureaucrats and lobbyists know the public would never let it pass if they knew what’s in it. The TPP essentially reheats all the rotten stuff nobody liked from SOPA and ACTA, two awful pieces of U.S. legislation that threatened to break the very openness of the Internet to suit the interests of outdated media giants. After widespread public opposition, the bills died, and the lobbyists learned a lesson--don’t try to get this stuff passed in the open. So far, they’ve been very successful in tacking it on to a trade deal where it doesn’t belong.

As U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said last year:

“I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”

Thanks to leaked TPP drafts and sustained campaigns from OpenMedia, allied groups and millions of active citizens around the world, regular people have had a chance to find out about the TPP’s chilling prospects for free expression and technological innovation. The message from the public couldn’t be clearer, with over 2.8 million people (and counting!) now speaking out against TPP secrecy.

You’d think this massive outcry would merit a change of tack from our leaders, but instead the the Obama administration keeps pushing for short-sighted and extreme Internet censorship rules that will be enforced by unelected lobbyist arbitration panels. To further stack the deck, Obama’s trade team keeps the lobbyist-bureaucrat revolving door spinning like a top.

Internet users the world over deserve better than to have their ISPs turn into copyright cops. We deserve better than to lose our Internet access or see our favourite websites taken down because of an accusation of infringement without any proof or judicial process. And we certainly deserve better than to have these kinds of unfair policies imposed upon us in secret by a powerful cabal of unelected lobbyists and bureaucrats. It’s time we opened up the TPP to real democratic scrutiny, and let the public decide what kind of digital future they believe in.

If you agree, please speak out right now at https://StopTheSecrecy.net - and spread the word about our campaign