Pact puts digit locks on Internet, warn critics

Venkat Raman – 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement may be marketed by its member countries as the ‘biggest deal of the times’ but it can pose the ‘biggest threat to the Internet’ and lead to global complications, Anti-Pact campaigners have warned.

As reported elsewhere in this Section, 12 countries including including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States of America and Vietnam announced in Atlanta (USA) on October 4, 2015 that they had signed the deal, concluding five years of intense negotiations.

While the Agreement must gain approval of the legislative bodies in each of the 12 countries before it can become effective, TPP has had some of its most vociferous critics, not the least of which are those related to users of computers, more particularly those browsing the Internet.

Netting troubles

“TPP will potentially bring huge new restrictions on what people can do with their computers,” Andrew Griffin, a Technology Reporter at the Independent newspaper said in his report published in the British daily.

“Its claimed purpose is to create a unified economic bloc so that companies and businesses can trade more easily but it also puts many of the central principle of the internet in doubt, according to campaigners,” he said.

figure2Mr Griffin said that one particularly controversial part of the provisions was that the Pact would make it a crime to reveal corporate wrongdoing ‘through a computer system.’

Experts have pointed out that the wording is very vague, and could lead to whistle blowers being penalised for sharing important information, and lead to journalists stopping reporting on them, he said.

“Others require that online content providers, such as YouTube and Facebook, must take down content if they receive just one complaint, as they are in the US. That will be harmful for start-ups looking to build such businesses since they will be required to have the resources to respond to every complaint,” Mr Griffin said in his column.

Worst threat

There were rising protests in some parts of the world in 2013 as the TPP talks were in their second year of progress. The Sans Francisco based Electronic Frontier Foundation described the TPP as “one of the worst global threats to the internet.”

Mr Griffin quoted EFF officials Katitza Rodriguez and Maria Sutton as saying that the changes are dangerous because to unify the various countries in the partnerships’ rules on intellectual property and other internet law, the countries were opting to take the largely restrictive rules prevalent in the USA.

“The TPP is likely to export some of the worst features of US copyright law to Pacific Rim countries: a broad ban on breaking digital locks on devices and creative works (even for legal purposes), a minimum copyright term of the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years (the current international norm is the lifetime plus 50 years), privatisation of enforcement for copyright infringement, ruinous statutory damages with no proof of actual harm, and government seizures of computers and equipment involved in alleged infringement.”

Massive changes

The changes could also lead to huge new rules about surveillance.

“Under this TPP proposal, Internet Service Providers could be required to ‘police’ user activity (i.e. police YOU), take down internet content, and cut people off from internet access for common user-generated content,” ‘Expose the TPP,’ a campaign group opposing the Agreement said.

As well as imposing strict rules on those on the internet, activists point out that some of the parts of the Agreement could limit central parts of the internet and modern computers.

A restriction on breaking ‘digital locks’ for instance, which is meant to allow companies to control their products even after they have been bought by customers, could stop disabled people from making important changes to their computers or using different technology.

The Agreement has been made in secret and will not be fully published publicly for years.

Technical experts wrote to the US Congress in May demanding more transparency about the Agreement.

“Despite containing many provisions that go far beyond the scope of traditional trade policy, the public is kept in the dark as these deals continue to be negotiated behind closed doors with heavy influence from only a limited subset of stakeholders.”

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