Hundreds of tech companies line up to oppose TPP trade agreement
Letter signed by more than 250 companies demands greater transparency and says ‘dangerously vague’ language would criminalise whistleblowers
Los Angeles residents share the reservations of more than 250 tech companies which oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP
Sam Thielman in New York
More than 250 tech companies have signed a letter demanding greater transparency from Congress and decrying the broad regulatory language in leaked parts of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bill.
The TPP would create an environment hostile to journalists and whistleblowers, said policy directors for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, co-authors of the letter. “TPP’s trade secrets provisions could make it a crime for people to reveal corporate wrongdoing ‘through a computer system’,” says the letter. “The language is dangerously vague, and enables signatory countries to enact rules that would ban reporting on timely, critical issues affecting the public.”
Among the signatories are activist, sci-fi author and Guardian tech columnist Cory Doctorow. “Democracies make their laws in public, not in smoke-filled rooms,” Doctorow wrote. “If TPP’s backers truly believed that they were doing the people’s work, they’d have invited the people into the room. The fact that they went to extreme, unprecedented measures to stop anyone from finding out what was going on – even going so far as to threaten Congress with jail if they spoke about it – tells you that this is something being done *to* Americans, not *for* Americans.”
Also on the list were prominent members of the open source community, including David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the popular Ruby on Rails web development framework, image hosting company Imgur and domain name manager Namecheap.
There was a notable absence from the letter of big, international tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. Apple and AT&T are part of the president’s International Trade Advisory Committee (which advises the Oval Office on matters relating to industry) and their representatives have presumably been able to read sections of the bill that would apply to their industry.
The letter’s signatories also criticized the fast-track bill – known as the Trade Promotion Authority – which is being discussed in Congress this week. If passed, the TPA would give Obama a yes or no vote on the trade pact without the ability for legislators to amend it. The fast-track bill needs to be passed to even give the TPP a shot at approval.
Several other companies and industry trade groups sent statements to Congress in support of the legislation, among them Cisco and the Consumer Electronics Association.
The Seminconductor Industry Association (SIA) said: “SIA strongly supports trade promotion authority (TPA) and applauds the introduction of this bipartisan legislation. TPA paves the way for free trade by empowering US negotiators to reach final trade agreements consistent with negotiating objectives laid out by Congress. Free trade is especially critical to the US semiconductor industry, which designs and manufactures the chips that enable virtually all electronics.”
TPP has sparked a growing row within the Democrat party. Senator Elizabeth Warren renewed her attack on the pact this week, issuing a scathing report on past trade deals.
Of particular concern to the tech community is an “Investment Chapter” of the TPP drafted in 2010 and leaked by Wikileaks. The letter’s signatories argue the provisions would allow corporations to use an international legal system to override national sovereignty: “The TPP Investment Chapter contains text that would enable corporations to sue nations over democratic rules that allegedly harm expected future profits. Companies can use this process to undermine US rules like fair use, net neutrality, and others designed to protect the free, open internet and users’ rights to free expression online.”
The section has likely been revised in the last five years, but whether the provisions have changed has not, and cannot, be disclosed.
“The future of the internet is simply too important to be decided behind closed doors,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. “The Fast Track/Trade Promotion Authority process actively silences the voices of internet users, startups, and small tech companies while giving the biggest players even more power to set policy that benefits a few select companies while undermining the health of the entire web.”