Hey cats: what’s up with digital rights in the Trans Pacific Partnership?

Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation hosted a Digital Rights Camp in Auckland, new Zealand in a prelude to the TPP negotiations this week. With participants from more than 8 of the countries involved in the TPP negotiations, the meeting was roaring success. Not only that. With the recently launched Cat Signal for defence of the internet, cat memes were just about everywhere. So what’s up with cats and the TPP?

The TPP is a multi-national trade agreement that is being negotiated in secret between governments. EFF points out that the TPP “threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement” and that the main problems are two-fold:

(1) IP chapter: Leaked draft texts of the agreement show that the intellectual property chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.

(2) Lack of transparency: The entire process has shut out multi-stakeholder participation and is shrouded in secrecy.
Participants at Auckland’s EFF camp included Derechos Digitales from Chile, Creative Commons Mexico, InternetNZ, the Australian Digital Alliance, Canada’s Open Media, as well as MIAU & co. from Japan.

It’s amazing how many activists are working hard to get their heads around this “son of ACTA” and focus critique and opposition. The TPP is a complex set of trade proposals and while a main focus for internet activists is the intellectual property chapter, it became clear that this is only one of the chapters that needs a closer look. Understanding the TPP requires expertise and awareness of how to link the global campaign to country specific contexts.

The sobering reality, activists presented, is that many of their countries of origin already have laws that are as much or even more restrictive than those proposed under the TPP. Clearly, this might mean that resistance vis-à-vis the internet impacts of the TPP may be hard to galvanise. Some activists were also divided about overall benefits and costs of the TPP, as some think there are real economic benefits for specific groups.

For those who aren’t specialists, this is one area where trusted experts can help lead advocacy efforts and guide us on what help is needed, rather than dedicating our own resources to it.

The hard yards for civil society are being done by some highly skilled civil society advocates. So in a word, do all you can to support them. You want an example? Here are two: Avaaz’s campaign to get one million people to oppose the TPP and Open Media’s call to Open the TPP.

Overall, I came away with optimism. Despite the challenges in many different countries, some campaigns are really working and it is not all bad news. Thanks to EFF, Jane Kelsey at Auckland Law School, InternetNZ and all the other cats who supported this camp and who continue advocating on a daily basis. Stay tuned for updates: https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp