How The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Kill Internet Freedom In Canada

What the future of the Internet may look like.

A wish list of the 1%, a worldwide corporate power grab of enormous proportions,” “undemocratic and patently unfair,” “the biggest global threat to the Internet.”

These are just a few of the disconcerting phrases legal experts and digital rights advocates are employing to describe the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a highly secretive, contentious, and perpetually undemocratic multinational trade agreement currently being negotiated between 600-plus industry advisors and unelected trade representatives on behalf of 11 different national governments including Canada.
 
While the devious, closed-room nature of the discussions have made it difficult to determine how exactly the TPP will infringe on freedoms of speech, rights to privacy, and peoples’ abilities to innovate on the Internet, a leaked draft from February of 2011 reveals that concerned citizens have every reason to be alarmed by the many copyright enforcement provisions buried deep within this trade deal.
 
 
As the above introductory video emphasises, what we do know for certain is this – thanks largely to relentless lobbying on the part of multinational telecom giants, the TPP endeavours to turn the Internet into a highly regulated and increasingly scrutinised digital environment through the reconfiguring of international rules concerning the enforcement of intellectual property (IP) laws in a way that favours profit-focused private interests and state-focused surveillance over public and shared information.
 
If established – ratification is scheduled for October of this year – the TPP will effectively create what amounts to a secretive and criminalising “Internet Trap” that will challenge digital freedom as we know it in 4 particularly distressing ways.
 
First, the TPP will dramatically regulate the sharing of digital content on social and search platforms by prohibiting the use of temporary copies – files automatically copied by computers into their random access memory (RAM). According to experts at InternetNZ, these temporary copies are critical for the routine operation of social media platforms because they allow videos to be smoothly buffered in memory, browser cache files to be stored on servers to speed up the loading of websites, and copies of visited pages to be stored in a temporary Internet files folder on your hard drive.
 
Second, the TPP will eradicate privacy safeguards by requiring all Internet service providers (ISPs) to systematically filter, collect, and surrender customer information to government monitors and corporate regulators upon request – eradicating any remaining vestiges of the online anonymity that once protected digital interactions.
 
Third, the TPP will allow media conglomerates to circumvent national legal systems by unilaterally fining users, removing undesirable content, deleting entire websites, and terminating Internet access under the guise of vague and inauspicious “three-strikes” mechanisms which would heavily favour media firms over individual users.
 
Fourth, the TPP will force all signatories to harmonise their domestic policies and laws with the restrictive US-directed provisions of the agreement. This means all parties would have to abandon any efforts to learn from the mistakes of notoriously stifling US copyright laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and instead adopt even the most controversial aspects of US legislation in their entirety.
 
In Canada alone, the forceful adaptation of coercive US-based TPP regulations would mean a ban on unlocking private digital devices such as mobile phones, 20-year increases to posthumous patents for written and recorded works, the criminalising of all petty copyright infringement for non-profit, non-commercial and educational purposes, the disclosure of personal information without privacy safeguards, and harsher criminal penalties for instances of non-compliance on takedown orders.
 
In short, the TPP in Canada would make already repressive and controversial domestic copyright legislations such as Bill C-11 seem light-hearted in comparison.
 
What’s more, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) – one of the principle architects of the TPP’s authoritarian IP chapter, has recently released a report directly criticising Canada for its data security policies. Arguing that the government’s strategy of protecting private data from being subjected to often-invasive surveillance and retention regimes offshore puts our economy at risk of being “left behind” in today’s private-interest-first, public-interest-second system.
 
If only we could be so lucky.
 
Perhaps even more disturbing than the TPP’s relentless pressure to conform relatively lenient Canadian IP standards to exploitative and manipulative US-inspired policies – contradicting nearly every principle on which the Internet was founded – is the fact that the negotiations are being completed by unelected trade representatives in utter secrecy without any public or journalistic consultation.
 
And make no mistake – this closed-door approach is a dangerous new trend. Before 2006, most international IP negotiations were conducted through a multilateral process that publicised all proposals and let NGOs, intellectuals, and public interest groups weigh in. But due to high-profile defeats like Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and increased public outcry, the emphasis has shifted to clandestine bi-lateral talks in the hopes that confidentiality will deter concerned citizens from asking questions.
 
Ironically, all this confidentiality only serves to further highlight the fact that all parties involved know just how much public recoil they would face if the TPP’s policies – which put at risk some of the most fundamental rights that enable access to knowledge for the world’s citizens – were to be exposed before they are finalised.
 
Even though concerned citizens, public interest groups, academics, and NGOs alike are forbidden from taking part in a process that will drastically restrict the way Canadians – and millions of other peoples – access, share, and communicate online, the very Internet that the TPP seeks to regulate is a powerful tool to fight back with.
 
So email, post, call, or tweet at your MP or local media outlet voicing your discontent regarding the TPP’s Internet-muzzling vision, sign OpenMedia.ca’s “Stop the Trap” petition currently being circulated to key government leaders and corporate trade representatives on Parliament Hill, and most of all, talk openly about the TPP.
 
Talk about it with your family, your friends, your co-workers, and with strangers in public spaces on and off the Web. By confronting secrecy with awareness we can shift the TPP into the public square and restore accountability to Internet policies.
 
Image Credit: Wonderlane/Flickr