EFF and Public Knowledge this week urged Congress to give American technology users more input in international trade agreements that have broad ramifications for digital freedom. In written testimony submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee, the groups told lawmakers that the U.S. Trade Representative's influential industry trade advisory committee on intellectual property should represent the interests of all stakeholders, and not just IP owners. PK and EFF also called on Congress to amend the Trade Act to change the default rules that allow the USTR to close ITAC meetings and prevent disclosure of ITAC documents to the public.
The current controversy over the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) demonstrates why this is necessary. Representatives of the MPAA, the RIAA, ESA and BSA have called for treaty provisions that would require Internet service providers to engage in filtering of their customers' Internet communications for potentially copyright-infringing material, force mandatory disclosure of personal information about alleged copyright infringers, and adopt "Three Strikes" policies requiring ISPs to automatically terminate customers' Internet access upon a repeat allegation of copyright infringement. Obviously, these provisions raise serious privacy, due process, fairness and free speech questions that demand public interest input. The USTR has confirmed that members of the industry trade advisory committee on IP have been given access to draft ACTA negotiating texts and provided advice to the USTR. Meanwhile, citizens, and the public interest groups which represent them, have had to rely on leaked documents to understand ACTA's likely affect on them.
As Public Knowledge notes, currently the industry trade advisory committee on intellectual property is composed almost exclusively of representatives from large content and pharmaceutical companies. As international intellectual property norms are increasingly created through closed bilateral and plurilateral trade negotiations, rather than in traditional open multilateral venues like WIPO, it is critical that policymakers obtain balanced input from all affected stakeholders. It's time to correct the imbalance and ensure that trade agreements reflect the interests of all Americans.