The Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Dead, and That's Good for Internet Freedom

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The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is on its deathbed. After international outcry and intense grassroots organizing, US lawmakers from both parties rejected the 12-country deal, including every leading presidential candidate. The president-elect has said he’ll withdraw from the pact on day one.

The TPP’s demise is a huge blow to the hundreds of corporate lobbyists who worked closely with government officials to craft the agreement in secret. But it’s a major victory for free speech and civil liberties in the digital age.

While many of the largest technology companies struck a deal with the White House and ended up supporting the TPP, it has long been condemned by tech experts, free speech advocates, startups, and civil society groups, along with some of the biggest websites on the Internet like reddit and Wikipedia, who have long championed the open web.

Decisions that impact the future of the Internet are too important to be made in secret.

It’s hard to imagine a process more antithetical to the free and open values underpinning the Internet than the backroom negotiations surrounding the TPP. At the deal’s core is the shocking Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section, which allows corporations to sue governments in closed-door tribunals before a panel of three corporate lawyers, demanding unlimited sums of money from taxpayers to undermine laws that corporations don’t like. Like the ones that protect public health, workers rights, and free speech.

The TPP’s intellectual property chapter follows the same basic rule as the rest of the 5,000+ page text: it privileges the rights of multinational corporations to profit over the basic human rights of ordinary people. It would have forced the United States’ broken copyright system onto other countries, without requiring protections for fair use and free speech.

The pact pushed for an extreme global standard for copyright terms of 70 years after the death of the creator, along with provisions that criminalize everyday experimentation, tinkering, and online activity. It would have dramatically expanded an unbalanced enforcement model and lead to widespread Internet censorship. In doing so, the TPP would have had a massive chilling effect on technological innovation and freedom of expression.

Copyright laws have repeatedly been abused by governments, corporations, and other institutions to silence dissent and scrub legitimate political content from the Internet. The massive online uprisings against SOPA and PIPA back in 2012 are a testament to how controversial intellectual property policy is, and how dangerous it can be when poorly crafted. The very same lobbyists who pushed those resoundingly rejected bills were sitting at the table helping write the text of the TPP, while tech experts, journalists, and the general public were locked out.

Decisions that impact the future of the Internet are too important to be made in secret.

Corporate-backed “trade” agreements like the TPP, and its evil stepsisters TTIP and TISA, are exactly the wrong venue to be discussing policies that have profound implications for the basic rights of hundreds of millions of Internet users.

The free and open Internet has given more people a voice than ever before. It’s a massive driver of innovation, jobs, and creativity. It gives ordinary people the power to speak their mind, challenge authority, and organize to make the world a better place.

Now more than ever, we’re in a battle to defend the transformative power of the Internet, and protect its future as a platform for freedom of expression and social change. By striking down the TPP we have beaten back one of the most significant threats to Internet freedom in a decade. Now we need to finish the job and make it clear that we not only reject the TPP, but the thinking behind it. Corporations should take note, and realize that they will no longer be able to turn these massive global deals into a wishlist of their most unpopular policies.

The Internet has shown time and time again that it will defend itself when attacked. And when the forces to tried to use the TPP to take away our Internet freedom hatch a new plan, we’ll be there to fight them every step of the way.

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Evan Greer is a transgender activist and musician based in Boston. She is the campaign director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @evan_greer.

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