Today, a group of 25 notable tech companies asked Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to fight measures that could slow innovation and greatly diminish personal freedoms on the Internet.
Specifically, the coalition is asking Wyden, a SOPA/PIPA opponent, for opposition to overly broad international trade policy proposals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP is a policy related to international trading and government oversight of those trade deals. It sounds dry and bureaucratic, but advocacy groups and tech companies are concerned that policy would broadly expand the definition of “trade,” clearing governments to enforce (or not enforce) copyrights. The provisions would also allow authorities to ignore established laws regarding copyrights, patents, and privacy.
Right now, a group of government insiders are crafting revisions to TPP that, if approved, will create loopholes for authorities to ignore many laws that protect our personal freedoms. Also, this group can invite outsiders to discuss the proposed provisions, but no one is sharing those details with the public. This effectively means regular U.S. citizens don’t have a say in the matter, which isn’t suppose to happen in a democratic society that elects representatives to carry out their collective will.
Companies that signed the letter include Reddit, Imgur, Automattic, DuckDuckGo, Fark, BoingBoing, Cheezburger Network, NameCheap, ThoughtWorks, DataFoundry, and many others. The reason they are targeting Wyden is due to his past track record of opposing bad tech policies like SOPA/PIPA. Wyden was also recently named head of the Senate Finance Committee, which gives him even more of an opportunity to speak out against trade policies like TPP.
So what will happen if the proposed provisions to TPP gain approval? In the letter, tech companies predict the following negative effects:
“Anticipated elements such as harsher criminal penalties for minor, non-commercial copyright infringements, a ‘take-down and ask questions later’ approach to pages and content alleged to breach copyright, and the possibility of Internet providers having to disclose personal information to authorities without safeguards for privacy will chill innovation and significantly restrict users’ freedoms online.”
Perhaps even more concerning is that the proposed TPP provisions are being discussed by regulators and legislators behind closed doors, making it virtually impossible for public feedback.
“We can only build a successful innovation policy framework — one that supports new ideas, products, and markets — if the process to design it is open and participatory,” the letter states.
“Unfortunately, the trade negotiation process has been anything but transparent. Our industry and the users that we serve need to be at the table from the beginning to design policies that serve more than the narrow commercial interests of the few large corporations who have been invited to participate.”
The group of companies also pointed out how current tech policies like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have actually fostered innovation while maintaining personal freedoms online, and they have asked for greater transparency when it comes to trade agreements.
While none of the companies that signed the letter are on par (financially) with industry giants like Microsoft and Google, they do represent a vital portion of the tech community. We hope Wyden will share their concerns and take action to keep the public informed on policies like this in the future.