EFF was in Washington DC this week to deliver our Fast Track petition to Senator Ron Wyden, and we've asked him to fix the secretive, Hollywood-captured process that taints current trade negotiations and leads to international agreements with draconian copyright provisions. At the time of the delivery, the petition was signed by 4,950 US users.*
Sen. Wyden has been a vocal advocate for the public to have access to the trade negotiations. One of the most notable moments was from a Senate Finance Committee hearing in 2012, where he challenged the US Trade Representative (USTR) on the secrecy that shrouds the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. He even suggested, during the course of that hearing, that the text affecting Internet users' rights should be available online in real time.
Now that he's the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, he holds the influence to introduce a new bill that could fundamentally change the process that has led to anti-user trade deals like the TPP.
That's why we need Sen. Wyden to continue to defend users' rights in Congress, by working towards more open, transparent, and participatory trade negotiations. This is the letter we delivered to Sen. Wyden's office yesterday, in which we outline some crucial fixes to the current process. Below each ask is a brief explanation for why we made that specific demand.
Dear Senator Wyden:
As constituents, consumers, and Internet users, we call on you to defend users' rights as you work to develop a new trade authority proposal. Democratic and transparent negotiating procedures are essential to protect those rights and the future of our Internet. Thus, any such proposal must include:
• Easy, ongoing access to negotiating texts by all Congress members and their staff with proper security clearance and timely public release of concluded provisions following each round of negotiations;
Sen. Wyden has been the most outspoken about the fact that Congress members have severely limited access to the text, in contrast to corporate representatives who sit on trade advisory committees. While Congress members themselves are able to view the text, they must do so in a private room. They are prohibited from taking notes or bringing their legislative aides, who are experts on those policy matters, even when they have proper security clearance. Most lawmakers are far from being fluent in the language of digital policy. So even if they can see the text it's unlikely they can make many pertinent comments, let alone identify the issues that might be the most alarming for Internet users.
We ask that Sen. Wyden require a regular publication of concluded provisions because there is simply no reason to keep such terms secret. And as we mentioned above, he even said so himself. Internet users should know what is going on in these deals so we can decide for ourselves whether those rules are acceptable. In democracies, it's the people who get to decide the rule of law—not trade bureaucrats beholden to powerful industries.
• Ongoing, up-to-date publication of detailed summaries of the USTR's specific proposals being submitted in negotiations;
We have the right to know what kind of copyright provisions the USTR is proposing in our name. Based on leaks of the TPP, as well as past international deals the USTR has struck with other nations, we have every reason to be critical about its stance on digital policies. It has been shamefully complicit with big publishers and the corporate entertainment industries to push for more extreme provisions than almost any of its negotiating partners.
• Regular publication of agendas and transcripts of meetings and of all communications between USTR officials and all stakeholders, including industry groups;
The reason why trade agreements now have such extreme, draconian copyright rules is because of the cozy relationship between the USTR and corporate interests. As public officials, they have a duty to disclose their communication with all stakeholders. This would substantially improve the transparency of the process from its earlier stages when the USTR formulates its policy objectives, and decides whose interests it will represent at the negotiating table.
• Mandatory negotiating objectives that balance users' rights with those of private industry, including requirements to enact safeguards for free speech, privacy, and access to knowledge;
The USTR sets overarching objectives for its trade agreements, and as you'd guess, they have always reiterated the "strong protection of Intellectual Property rights". There is no reason why they cannot balance those concerns and also prioritize these core rights for Internet users.
• Congressional certification that negotiating objectives have been met before negotiations are concluded with only the pacts that have been so certified qualifying for expedited consideration;
In the event the USTR does re-examine its seemingly myopic concern for Hollywood, and accordingly re-authorizes its negotiation objectives, then someone needs to hold the USTR accountable. Congress could be in the position to ensure that these negotiation objectives are met. Otherwise, there will be no chance that Congress would even vote on the trade agreement without holding full hearings and debates on the content of those deals.
• Congressional approval of trade agreement texts before they can be signed by a president so that Congress explicitly authorizes a president to enter into a pact only after ensuring that an agreement’s contents are acceptable.
Under the old, expired versions of Fast Track, presidents could sign off on a trade agreement without Congressional approval. Congress had given up its constitutionally mandated role to oversee foreign commerce, and were limited to voting up or down on a deal with barely any time to debate the contents of those agreements. Such a system violates the separation of powers of the federal government. The Executive branch—which the USTR falls under—cannot have sole authority over US trade policy.
We stand opposed to any new version of trade authority that does not include these critical guarantees of transparency, inclusiveness and accountability. Additionally, provisions in current trade negotiations must not be considered closed until these transparency and oversight mechanisms have been put in place.
If enacted, these procedural fixes would not lead to a perfect process, but it's a start. Sen. Wyden, who has been so outstanding on calling out the procedural problems in the TPP, now has the rare opportunity to make things better. We're counting on him to do that, and ensure that for the first time, users' rights take front seat in the trade policy debate.
* This number is the result of eliminated duplicates and omission of non-US signers.