Over 25 leading technology companies have joined a public letter urging Senator Ron Wyden, the newly appointed Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to firmly oppose any form of "fast track" authority for trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, is a mechanism that in practice limits Congressional oversight over U.S. trade policy, and gives the White House sweeping power to negotiate and finalize trade agreements. The companies call on Senator Wyden, already an outspoken advocate for greater transparency and public participation in TPP negotiations, to uphold his dedication to users and digital rights into his new role leading the Senate Committee which holds considerable influence over Congress' trade agenda.
Signatories to the letter include tech companies like reddit, Automattic (the company behind WordPress), Imgur, DuckDuckGo, CREDO Mobile, BoingBoing, Thoughtworks, Namecheap, and Cheezburger. In the letter, the companies outline how the technology industry, from entrepreneurs and engineers all the way to consumers, could be harmed by “fast tracked” trade agreements that contain unbalanced copyright and innovation policy frameworks. “These highly secretive, supranational agreements are reported to include provisions that vastly expand on any reasonable definition of ‘trade,’ including provisions that impact patents, copyright, and privacy in ways that constrain legitimate online activity and innovation,” the companies write. “Our industry, and the users that we serve, need to be at the table from the beginning,” which has not been the case with TPP negotiations.
The delivery of the letter coincides with an event outside Senator Wyden’s office in Portland, OR, where fair trade advocacy groups delivered more than 13,686 signatures to the Senator also asking him to oppose any form of Fast Track authority. During the action they urged him to oppose the renewal of 1970s-era trade legislation, which they say threatens high-tech jobs in Oregon, digital privacy, and freedom on the Internet. The signatures were adhered to hundreds of floppy disks with the message “Fast Track is obsolete technology.”
“An open Internet drives innovation because it is a free market for business and ideas,” said Ron Yokubaitis, Co-CEO of Golden Frog and Data Foundry, one of the signers of the letter. “We strongly urge Senator Wyden to not bend to the narrow interests of a few large corporations. Instead we hope he stands up for the small companies that continue to create innovation on the open Internet, but get left out when legislation is proposed that is not transparent and participatory.”
Beyond copyright concerns, some companies expressed concern that the opaque negotiation process could neglect user interests like privacy and anonymity. “TPP is the first step toward internet censorship, and simultaneously, pressures ISPs to monitor their users' activity. People have already spoken, and this is not what they want,” said Andrew Lee of Private Internet Access. “However, if ‘fast track’ powers are enabled, democracy will cease to exist and this may very well become a reality. We absolutely cannot let this happen.” Gabriel Weinberg, Founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo added, “We proudly support the efforts of the tech community to bring discussions that have far-reaching implications out from behind closed doors."
In pushing for Fast Track, the Obama administration would strip another layer of transparency and accountability out of the trade agreement process. If it succeeds, TPP and other trade agreements with draconian copyright enforcement rules could get passed with even less democratic oversight. We hope to see the Senator oppose those efforts, and stand firm on his dedication to Internet users and transparent rule making as he takes on a position of leadership over the Congressional trade agenda.
If you're in the US: use this tool to contact your lawmakers, call your representatives, and help us keep the pressure on Congress to oppose Fast Track.