Why “Fast Track” is a Bad Idea

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TPP
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We’ve written time and time again about the potential dangers of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), an international trade agreement being secretly negotiated between twelve countries including the United States, for consumers’ digital rights.

In the early weeks and months of 2015, Congress is expected to vote on legislation that could grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority, popularly known as “fast track,” over international trade deals. The fast track power allows for the President to negotiate and sign onto international trade policy instead of going through Congress. Via the fast track process, once a trade deal such as the TPP reaches Congress, they have the option to vote up (approving the deal in its entirety) or vote down (negating it in its totality - which has never happened before), and only have ninety days to do so. This means no public debate, no hearings, and no amendments.

Since the first round of official negotiations began five years ago, the TPP has been negotiated in complete secrecy with no open consultations with civil society, the public, or most elected US officials at the regional and federal level. The countries involved in the deal hold forty percent of the world’s GDP and twelve percent of the world’s population, but the billions of people that will be directly impacted by the deal have had no say in its drafting. In fact, the main source of information on the draft text for civil society, the public, and elected representatives alike have come from leaked text and backchannel conversations.

From what is known, the draft agreement is composed of 29 chapters, and at least three chapters (the intellectual property chapter, the services chapter, and the e-commerce chapter) could impact your rights as a consumer and your rights online. The draft text that was leaked this past fall included language that suggested that necessary temporary electronic copies violate copyright, a top concern for Public Knowledge. Previous leaks have shown that the TPP chapter on intellectual property aims to include other concerning rules such as creating extraordinarily long copyright terms, criminalizing small-scale infringement, and prohibitions against breaking digital locks for legal purposes.  Many of these restrictive provisions in TPP are inconsistent with U.S. intellectual property laws, which is a problem when the deal negotiated is binding.

This is all happening even after the White House and the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the agency leading the negotiations for the United States, have publicly committed to a standard of transparency and inclusive participation through their respective open government initiatives. This past Monday, USTR published a factsheet on transparency and the TPP, and while that’s a great step, it’s not enough. If fast track authority for closed-door trade negotiations is granted, that still goes directly against open government and transparency standards, and takes away the power of Congress and the public in democratic oversight.

The TPP could negatively impact how Americans and billions more people in the world interact online. We are urging Congress to exercise their authority over international trade agreements and not give the TPP and other secret trade negotiations a fast track through Congress.

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