Depending on where you get your news from, you’re either constantly bombarded with information about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, or you have absolutely no idea what we’re talking about.
Now, you may be too deep in this latter group to ask what’s so wrong with the TPP agreement without getting glares from your more-informed friends, so we’ll give you the short version: the TPP is a super confusing, multinational trade agreement that’s hiding a serious threat to your internet freedom.
To learn more about what’s really at stake and what this agreement means for you, we’ll be diving into the details that bother (and worry!) us the most.
What is the TPP Really All About?
Similar to President Bill Clinton’s NAFTA trade agreement that opened up labor and tariff laws between North American countries, President Barack Obama hopes the TPP will pave the way for economic growth for a few strategic countries in the Americas and the Pacific Rim, namely:
- United States
- New Zealand
The Obama administration claims the TPP “will help increase Made-in-America exports, grow the American economy, support well-paying American jobs, and strengthen the American middle class.”
However, out of the 30 chapters contained in the agreement, only six of them pertain directly to trade. The others have to do with intellectual property laws and ISP policing, which have nothing to do with trade.
Plus, since the agreement took seven years of negotiations with big corporations, Hollywood lobbyists, and very few democratic representatives, there are more critics than supporters, including both 2016 presidential candidates.
Here’s the positive news: just like any good movie with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle standing in the hero’s way, the TPP faces one more hurdle: ratification.
Even though each country signed the pact on February 4, 2016, the TPP still needs to be ratified in each country’s version of congress. Which means there’s still time to prevent this disaster from passing.
Our Biggest Issue? The TPP Will Take Away Internet Freedom
There are five key areas of the TPP the we just cannot get on board with:
The New Era of ISP Policing
If you already hate your internet service provider, you’re going to really detest them when the TPP requires them to police your internet activity. Under this regime, ISPs like the detested Comcast will be able to spy on your activity (without a warrant, no less) in an effort to save their own butts.
See, the TPP will be cracking down on ISPs and holding them liable for violating copyrights, so they will have to start coming down on their subscribers.
ISPs will be able to take down user-created content and websites — without needing any proof of wrongdoing — and may even have the power to cut users off from their services completely if they disagree with their internet activity.
ISPs may band together to create one widespread list of “rules and regulations” everyone will need to follow. Consumers will have no choice but to comply and stay within the boundaries of the new police state that used to be known as the wide open web.
The Lack of Private Data Protection
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the TPP’s Electronic Commerce and Telecommunications Chapters “encourage your personal data to be sent across borders with limited protection for your privacy.”
The New York Times explains that countries will not be allowed to “block cross-border transfers of data over the Internet, and not require that servers be located in the country in order to conduct business in that country.”
But the TPP doesn’t place any emphasis on how companies should be protecting your personal information offshore.
For example, Australia’s privacy laws safeguard against personal data being stored offshore where it’s out of the law’s reach, but this would be in direct violation of the TPP.
Leaked versions of the TPP suggest that the language even goes so far as to suggest enacting a sort of “self-regulation” for companies that make money off of your data, completely absolving the lawmakers from enforcement.
Journalists and Whistleblowers are Being Targeted
Another section of the TPP targets the “misuse of trade secrets” via “computer systems” and makes these actions a criminal offense.
While the text is vague as to what constitutes “trade secrets”, many experts suggest that this undoubtedly targets whistleblowers and journalists who routinely expose critical information in the name of justice.
Copyright Extension Terms Help Few, Harm Many
Copyright laws make sure creators profit from their efforts. No one disagrees that copyrights, patents, trademarks, and other intellectual property should be protected.
But lobbyists for the TPP want to extend these copyrights by anywhere from 20–70 years after the creator’s death.
This only prolongs profiteering for larger corporations and impedes new technology from building upon known predecessors.
Additionally, protecting source codes and software from being tinkered with sends the message that consumers aren’t allowed to understand how their devices work or how they can tinker with them to better fit their needs — even though they purchased and own the device or software.
On top of this, instead of allowing each country to maintain their own rules and regulations for intellectual property laws, the TPP wants to establish one standardized process for the creation and enforcement of these rules.
The EFF notes that, “U.S. negotiators pushed for the adoption of copyright measures far more restrictive than currently required by international treaties.”
As copyright terms become more stringent under the TPP so does the punishment and monetary fines for breaking those rules.
Criminal sanctions are now on the table for file sharing fair use data and other consumer-owned digital property.
For example, under the TPP, if you convert an ebook from one proprietary format to read on another device you own, you’ll face the same charges and punishment as someone running a hugely profitable pirated DVD business — and there doesn’t ever need to be a formal complaint from the owner of the content you’re sharing to start the criminal process!
Heavy enforcements include prison time, exorbitant fines, and even the destruction of the device or your personal website you allegedly committed your crimes on (ouch!).
Lawmakers in the U.S. have been struggling with digital copyright laws for years — and they haven’t gotten it right yet.
These laws “allow publishers, studios, and other distributors to write their own private laws about how people can use their legally purchased media.”
If the TPP passes, other countries will be forced to adopt these same controversial and unfair policies.
No More Breaking Digital Locks (Even if They’re Legit)
Do you have a jailbroken phone? Do you use Linux or Ubuntu?
Well, under the TPP, you’d be facing mandatory fines for breaking the digital locks that came with your devices, even though you’re only unlocking content that you paid for and not harming or profiting from anyone.
This one rule would make many programmers unhappy, but it would literally take computers and the internet away from millions of deaf and blind citizens who need to break digital locks to install closed-captioning and audio-supported features.
It doesn’t matter how beneficial the purpose, TPP law mandates that tinkering with copyright content is still illegal and that’s just illogical.
Besides all of the information we discussed today, what makes the TPP even more frightening is that if passed, it currently does not have an expiration date, meaning it will be almost impossible to repeal.
As Tom Morello, political activist and Rage Against the Machine guitarist, puts it:
“The TPP is nothing short of a corporate takeover of our democracy. That’s why people are rising up to stop it. Corporate lobbyists want to sneak the TPP through Congress quietly; that means it’s time for us to get loud.”