Secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Threatens Web Freedom, Critics Say

News of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) surfaced last week with the leak of the US chapter concerning intellectual property. A trade agreement between nine countries including Australia, Singapore, and Peru, the bill threatens even more restrictions on intellectual property than the policy proposed in its predecessor, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The EFF warns that the TPP will enforce even greater limitations concerning copyright and intellectual property regulation, and that the first draft of the agreement "raises significant concerns for citizens’ due process, privacy and freedom of expression rights":

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is pursuing a TPP agreement that will require signatory counties to adopt heightened copyright protection that advances the agenda of the U.S. entertainment and pharmaceutical industries, but omits the flexibilities and exceptions that protect Internet users and technology innovators.

Of most interest to American critics of the agreement is the US intellectual property chapter. First drafted in February, the chapter suggests criminal penalties for those who illegally record films or other audiovisual material in a "public motion picture facility." Supporters of the TPP say that stymieing piracy will help local economies grow, encourage innovation, and maintain jobs. But critics have noted that these provisions could easily turn into tools for web censorship. They argue that the bill puts intellectual property governance in the hands of lobbyists and that under the terms of the TPP, websites could be taken down without due notice. Susan Chalmers of the National Business Review in New Zealand wrote that the agreement is most problematic in that it allows the United States to mold other countries' intellectual property law.

Also worrisome for Internet freedom defenders is the secrecy surrounding the negotiations of the agreement. Negotiations have been happening behind closed doors, a situation that has alarmed even members of Congress. Representative Darrell Issa of California, who leaked the US chapter, urged visitors on his website to contribute improvements to the current draft of the agreement. Said Issa of the importance of openness in the drafting of the TPP, "At a time when the American people and Internet users all around the world are rightfully wary of any closed-door negotiations that could adversely impact their ability to freely and openly access the Internet, the Obama administration continues to pursue a secretive, closed-door negotiating process for the Trans Pacific Partnership."

According to another website dedicated to TPP issues, negotiations have been accelerated so that the agreement may be closed soon. Not only that, the process has become more and more closed with stakeholder forums being replaced with "tables” staffed by interested stakeholders to which negotiators may or may not go. Protesters have rallied together against this. Yesterday, 500 demonstrators marched to the Dallas Intercontinental Hotel, where the current round of negotiations are occurring behind closed doors.

The USTR is classifying the document for four years after the agreement has been signed, giving only the member states access to the document. Bloomberg reports that the next meeting will take place in San Diego in early July.