‘NAFTA on Steroids’: secret agreements to censor the Internet
September 8, 2012
Negotiators from the U.S. and eight other Pacific Rim countries are meeting at a seclude resort in Leesburg, Viriginia, working out deals in the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that could hamper free speech on the Internet, Common Dreams reports.
The negotiations began in 2007 and have been carried through by the Obama administration and several Pacific nations under conditions of “extreme secrecy” without press, public, or policymaker oversight.
Leaked information suggests that the agreement could attempt to achieve some of the same objectives as the controversial and broadly protested Anti-Counterfeiting Agreement (ACTA) and includes rules that could hamper free speech on the Internet.
“No one has the right to trade away our hard-fought legal protections for free speech and the right to health, and much less to do it behind closed doors,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director for Amnesty International USA.
Earlier this year, Public Citizen posted a leaked document from a past TPP meeting on their website revealing that the pact will give multinational corporations radical new political powers in global trade, including the allotment of vast legal powers to multinational corporations over governments.
Participating countries include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico are expected to join the negotiations.
According to the Electronic Frontiers Foundation:
The draft chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on Intellectual Property—as of its current leaked version [PDF], article 16—insists that signatories provide legal incentives for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to privately enforce copyright protection rules. The TPP wants service providers to undertake the financial and administrative burdens of becoming copyright cops, serving a copyright maximalist agenda while disregarding the consequences for Internet freedom and innovation.
TPP article 16.3 mandates a system of ISP liability that goes beyond the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) standards and US case law. In sum, the TPP pushes a framework beyond ACTA and possibly the spirit of the DMCA, since it opens the doors for:
- Three-strikes policies and laws that require Internet intermediaries to terminate their users’ Internet access on repeat allegations of copyright infringement
- Requirements for Internet intermediaries to filter all Internet communications for potentially copyright-infringing material
- ISP obligations to block access to websites that allegedly infringe or facilitate copyright infringement
- Efforts to force intermediaries to disclose the identities of their customers to IP rightsholders on an allegation of copyright infringement.
The TPP Puts Your Rights at Risk
Service providers are the conduits of free expression. By enabling free or low-cost platforms that enable anyone to reach an audience of millions, ISPs have democratized media and enabled innovative ideas to spread quickly—without the gatekeepers of traditional media.
Private ISP enforcement of copyright poses a serious threat to free speech on the Internet, because it makes offering open platforms for user-generated content economically untenable. For example, on an ad-supported site, the costs of reviewing each post will generally exceed the pennies of revenue one might get from ads. Even obvious fair uses could become too risky to host, leading to an Internet with only cautious and conservative content.
Moreover, the TPP insists upon notice and takedown regimes at the price of a free and open Internet. Expression is often time-sensitive: reacting to recent news or promoting a candidate for election. Online takedown requirements open the door to abuse, allowing the claim of copyright to trump the judicial system, and get immediate removal, before the merits are assessed. Put back procedures can mitigate the harm, but even a few days of downtime can strike a serious blow to freedom of expression.