TPP revealed: Pact details ignite debate over privacy, internet freedom, whistleblowers

U.S. President Barack Obama. © Jim Young
With the release of the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sharpening of arguments on both sides outline a debate about privacy, corporatism, internet freedom and intellectual property, and even the plight of whistleblowers.

The world got its first look at the international agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries on Thursday, exactly one month after it was finalized on October 5. Given that the secret negotiations hammering out the pact had been ongoing since 2008, with details hard to come by, skeptics and critics had been expressing suspicions as to TPP’s true intentions and ultimate impact over the past couple years. Now they can finally stop speculating and have a look at the fine print.

While some politicians are refraining from commentary, activists are capitalizing on the release. After summarizing its chapters, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) concluded on its website that TPP “upholds corporate rights and interests at the direct expense of all of our digital rights.”

Advocates for privacy and internet freedom took issue with provisions in the agreement that require real names and addresses associated with internet domains such as .us, .ca, or .au to be registered with the home government.

“This is dangerous especially for the ability of opposition groups in repressive countries to voice their concerns online without fear of violent retribution,” Fight For the Future (FFTF) wrote on its website.

Additionally, the agreement requires internet service providers to help take down websites that are violating copyright laws, but does not allow the websites to dispute copyright accusations. This potentially opens the door to service providers taking down websites in one country over copyright accusations from a company based in another nation.

The pact also criminalizes the “unauthorized and willful disclosure of a trade secret including via a computer system.” According to FFTF, this is a clear effort to discourage whistleblowers and journalists from exposing sensitive issues.

Intellectual property protections in the agreement include biologic drugs – advanced and expensive drugs to manufacture. All countries in the TPP would have to enforce five to eight year minimums of exclusivity, preventing other companies from making cheaper generic forms called biosimilars. The United States protects exclusivity rights for 12 years. Critics say this would drive up the cost of life-saving medicines for developing countries.

Another concern related to intellectual property is the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, which FFTF opposes on principle as an anti-democratic system. Corporations can sue governments under the system if a country’s policies are perceived as cutting in on intellectual property values and profits.

“No matter what else is in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this section makes it bad for people everywhere,” FFTF wrote.

The International Business Times reported that the US actually agreed to place restrictions on how corporations can sue foreign governments, but activists argue the changes are not significant enough.

Evan Greer, campaign director of FFTF, told Free Speech Radio News “Particularly, the intellectual property chapter reads like a laundry list of demands from unpopular industries where they’re pushing for policies that they know that they could never get through if it were done through traditional political means or in the light of day.”

Greer also said the intellectual property provisions “benefit copyright holders in ways that could lead to widespread internet censorship. It’s very similar in scope to the very unpopular legislation, SOPA, that was resoundingly rejected several years ago.”

Protests against TPP are scheduled for November 16 and 17 at the Capitol building in Washington, DC.

The TPP’s stated goal is to “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.”

The people and governments of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam now have the opportunity to judge whether the trade deal will be successful and come into force.

“It’s worse than we thought,” Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach said in a media conference call. “There are improvements, but we do not believe those improvements are significant or meaningful for workers,” the AFL-CIO’s trade and globalization policy specialist, Celeste Drake, said during the same call.

US President Barack Obama has defended the pact, however.

“I know that past trade agreements haven’t always lived up to the hype. That’s what makes this trade agreement so different, and so important,” he wrote in an online op-ed. “The TPP means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century.

“If we don’t pass this agreement – if America doesn’t write those rules – then countries like China will.”

In accordance with the Trade Priorities Act of 2015, or “fast track,” Obama notified Congress of his intention to sign the TPP on Thursday. He must wait 90 days to do so before sending it to Congress for final approval.

House of Representatives Speaker Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) was a strong advocate for the “fast track” process signed into law by Obama in June, which leaves Congress with no power to amend the TPP, but Ryan did not stake out a position either way on TPP Thursday, saying he needs to read it first.

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