EFF has joined a broad coalition of 14 public interest groups today in delivering a letter to members of Congress, urging U.S. lawmakers not to grant the Obama administration "fast-track" authority for trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a complex multi-national agreement that could extend restrictive laws around the world and rewrite international rules of copyright enforcement in ways that could further restrict online rights.

Fast-track authority, also known as "trade promotion authority," requires Congress to waive its Constitutional authority to review treaties, limiting its ability to seek fixes and amendments. In the case of agreements negotiated in near-total secrecy, like the TPP, granting fast-track authority would create a dangerous lack of accountability. From the letter:

The American public has a right to know the contents of the international agreements its government is crafting. Corporations cannot be the only interests represented in this agreement, since they do not advocate for policies that safeguard or even represent the interests of the public at large. Given the administration's complete lack of transparency in negotiating the TPP, it is vitally important that democratically elected representatives are at least given the opportunity to conduct a review and push for fixes.

As of now, the public cannot know exactly how the language in the TPP would affect its digital rights, because the only available information comes from intermittent leaks of the text. The most recent full leak of the "Intellectual Property" chapter came in February of 2011, and contained troubling provisions that would—among other things—formalize the U.S. ban on circumventing Digital Rights Management (DRM) software in more countries around the world, and extend copyright restrictions to so-called "temporary copies," interfering with basic functions of computers and the Internet.

Moreover, the letter explains that TPP as written could crystallize components of U.S. law that are far from fully settled domestically. Beyond the anti-circumvention provisions mentioned above, the leaked draft also contains restrictions on importation that were rejected by the Supreme Court this year in Wiley v. Kirtsaeng, which affirmed owners' first-sale rights to lend or resell products and works manufactured abroad.

It is possible these concerns have been addressed, but given the lack of transparency, the public cannot be sure. The public needs to play a role in the process, and one essential component of that Congress must be in the loop. Today's letter makes that point:

Agreements such as the TPP require transparency and input from all affected stakeholders, and a fast‐track process would not permit Congress to provide that essential feedback. The stakes for user's rights are too high, and the process has been too secretive, to allow the administration to enact an agreement without meaningful Congressional oversight.

In pushing for fast-track authority, the Obama administration has sought to strip another layer of transparency and accountability out of the trade agreement process. Congress, as elected representatives of the public, must work to bring that transparency back.

List of signing organizations: Amnesty InternationalDemand ProgressElectronic Frontier FoundationFree Press Action Fund, Free Software Foundation, Gene Ethics, Global Exchange, IOGT International, Knowledge Ecology International, New Media Rights, OpenMedia, Public Citizen, Public Knowledge, and RedGe.