“So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we'll be called a democracy.” - ACLU Founder Roger Baldwin
In a recent blog post, Sandra Fulton of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Washington Legislative Office, described the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) as the "biggest threat to free speech and intellectual property that you’ve never heard of." In her post, she reminds readers that the USTR is not only pushing for TPP and its proposed changes to intellectual property law, it is doing its best to avoid Congressional oversight. For instance, the USTR has recently rebuffed a request from the staff director on the Senate Finance Committee's International Trade Subcommittee to review documents pertaining to the negotiations. Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Subcommittee, wrote:
[M]y office is responsible for conducting oversight over the USTR and trade negotiations. To do that, I asked that my staff obtain the proper security credentials to view the information that USTR keeps confidential and secret. This is material that fully describes what the USTR is seeking in the TPP talks on behalf of the American people and on behalf of Congress. More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing.
We decided to speak to Sandra Fulton and Gabe Rottman of the ACLU to learn more about the role the ACLU is playing in the fight for an open and transparent TPP negotiation process.
EFF: How does TPP relate to the ACLU's agenda on digital freedoms?
ACLU: The TPP relates to the ACLU’s agenda of protecting free speech and privacy online, open government principles and ultimately protecting the Internet as the most open and innovative platform the world has seen. While strong regulations are necessary to protect IP and promote innovation online, these must be crafted carefully and in a fully transparent fashion. We are concerned that an overly broad policy to crackdown on copyright infringement would allow for the takedown of non-infringing content as well, in violation of the First Amendment, which was the same concern presented by SOPA and PIPA. We also have strong concerns over any provision that would create legal incentives for ISPs to step up surveillance of Internet communications in search of suspected copyright infringement, which would potentially endanger the privacy of users. We also believe that whole site takedowns pose serious due process concerns.
EFF: No one in the public has had access to the official TPP text. So what do you expect from the US government in regard to the TPP negotiation process moving forward?
ACLU: First of all, we do not believe domestic IP law can or should be changed through international agreements. While the administration insists TPP will not change substantive US law, we are concerned that this will not be the case. Signing the agreement could make it unnecessarily more difficult for Congress to update copyright laws while staying compliant with new international obligations.
If negotiations of an international treaty that could affect domestic enforcement of IP law are to continue they must proceed in an open and fully transparent fashion. All negotiations must take place in a way where all interested parties, including those representing civil society, are able to participate.
EFF: International treaties do impact citizens’ freedoms. How can citizens engage in the process? How can ACLU help?
ACLU: Citizens can contact their members of Congress directly to demand Congressional oversight of the TPP, and can lobby the Office of the US Trade Representative. The ACLU will be following the issue to keep our membership up to date and we will also be attending the meeting in Virginia to discuss our concerns with negotiators and other stakeholders.
EFF: Any final thoughts on TPP?
ACLU: We are very concerned with the President circumventing constitutional checks and balances by wrongly asserting fast track authority in order to negotiate the agreement without Congressional oversight.
We applaud the ACLU for joining EFF and other civil society organizations in this battle against the lack of transparency in TPP negotiations and the agreement's restrictive IP provisions.
Join EFF and more than 25,000 people in sending a message to Congress members to demand an end to these secret backdoor negotiations: