CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
March 13, 2012 – 11:47 p.m.
Technology Groups Worry About Trade Pact
By Joseph J. Schatz, CQ Staff
The debate over Internet regulation and freedom, which flared spectacularly in January before House and Senate leaders decided to shelve anti-piracy legislation, is popping up in a new forum: a nascent Pacific Rim trade pact backed by the Obama administration.
Technology and advocacy groups are asking officials to ensure that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is under negotiation among the United States and at least eight other nations, would not incorporate some of the same intellectual property restrictions that proved problematic earlier this year.
Some of the same groups that see an advantage to opening trade around the Pacific also support broader anti-piracy laws. But opponents of those laws are concerned that the trade talks might open a side door to their enactment.
Those bills (
Wyden said additional transparency is needed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to ensure public support, noting that the Jan. 18 blackout orchestrated by websites and companies, including Wikipedia and Google Inc., signaled public concern over any potential changes in Internet access.
Wyden was active in the anti-piracy debate on the side of large Internet companies, proposing, along with California GOP Rep.
“I’m getting a lot of questions and complaints and concerns from people who care passionately about Internet freedom,” Wyden told U.S. Trade Representative
Kirk, bristling at what he called ill-informed reports, insisted that the White House is proposing nothing resembling the anti-piracy bills. “We don’t help ourselves by trying to conflate the recent debate over PIPA and SOPA and what we’re doing in TPP, because nothing could be further from the truth,” Kirk said. “This is completely the opposite. None of the issues of which you had the most concern over those provisions in SOPA or PIPA are included in the TPP. We are trying to make sure we promote the free flow of data end information.”
Key Issues in Negotiations
The administration is looking to the Pacific Rim trade negotiations, which would require congressional approval if an accord were reached, to boost exports and revive U.S. economic influence in Asia. The negotiations so far do not include China, which many U.S. companies contend offers weak legal protections for patents, trademarks and other intellectual property rights.
Corporations and unions alike consider the trade deal an opportunity to establish new ways of dealing with “21st-century” issues such as trade in environmental goods, complicated global supply chains, intellectual property and Internet protocols.
Those are key issues to many members of Congress.
Technology Groups Worry About Trade Pact
“Other foreign governments require online service suppliers to process data locally or to locate servers in their countries,” said Republican
The White House wants to reach a trade agreement this year, although no legislation is likely to come before Congress in 2012. The administration has yet to request expanded negotiating authority that would be needed to seal the deal. And concerns from domestic automakers about Japan’s potential involvement in the trade talks persist.
In addition, concerns abound among Internet freedom-minded bloggers that the desire by U.S. industries for intellectual property protections will lead to stiff Internet restrictions, and technology companies are weighing in.
In a Jan. 30 memo circulated by the Computer and Communications Industry Association — a group that counts Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other major tech companies as members — lawyer Jonathan Band argued that trade negotiations must be more transparent.
Band said any intellectual property provisions in the talks “must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by dynamic businesses, large and small.”
“TPP negotiators should understand the SOPA experience to avoid repeating its mistakes,” Band wrote, noting that the Internet, unlike traditional industries, is inherently international. Restrictions in “TPP must be narrowly targeted only at activity clearly prohibited under existing laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity,” he wrote.
Wyden and Issa have been critical on similar grounds of a pending international treaty targeting counterfeiting, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. More than 30 countries have signed the treaty, but it has not taken effect and the United States has not ratified it.
Kirk said the administration has engaged in extensive public consultations on the privacy issue, and he noted that an earlier effort to make public the topics being negotiated drew “a fairly stern message” from the top lawmakers on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.
“No one will sit at the table and negotiate if we put all the terms of every text out,” Kirk said.