TTIP and digital rights

Green MEP Jean Lambert has released a new collection of essays by a number of authors who are concerned about TTIP - the proposed trade deal between the EU and the USA. This is our article for the collection about digital rights concerns about TTIP.


A PDF of the full collection of articles including this one is available here.

Digital rights are our human rights in the context of digital technologies such as the Internet. This includes our rights to privacy, freedom of expression and data protection. They also encompass issues around intellectual property and our ability to access, use, and create digital media. We are going to have to watch very carefully to ensure that TTIP does not do serious damage to many of our digital rights.

A major problem with the TTIP negotiations so far has been the disturbing lack of transparency. General summaries of what has been discussed in each round of negotiations are released, but the negotiating texts are not. Because the talks are shrouded in secrecy, proper scrutiny by the public, media, law-makers and civil society of what is being negotiated on our behalf is not possible. The negotiating texts should be made public. We cannot move ahead with a process where the first time the details of TTIP are made public is when the text is final and the opportunity for constructive input has passed. This is clearly an undemocratic and unacceptable way for trade negotiations to be carried out.

With the current levels of transparency we are, to some extent, in the dark on the precise details of what is being said at the negotiation table on issues that would affect our digital rights. Saying that, there are areas where the threat to our digital rights seems clear.

ISDS - the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision - is of concern to digital rights campaigners. This would allow foreign companies to sue the European Union and/or Member State governments if they pass laws which would impinge upon their future profits. Digital rights groups are campaigning for copyright and data protection reforms to protect our digital culture and our personal data. If we are successful in our campaigns though, ISDS could open up future legislation on copyright or data protection reform to a challenge by multinational companies in secretive, non-judicial tribunals. Similarly legislators could be discouraged from passing positive reforms on digital rights issues if they fear—or are told by industry lobbyists—that the laws could open them up to an ISDS case. ISDS should be excluded from TTIP and other trade agreements.

Our right to privacy and data protection could be put at risk by TTIP. At the moment, the European Data Protection Directive tries to protect our privacy by prohibiting firms from transferring personal data to countries with weaker privacy laws. But foreign recipients of European citizens’ personal data—including

Facebook and Google—have been able to sign up to a Safe Harbour agreement to self-certify that their data protection standards are equivalent to European requirements. After Edward Snowden revealed that US intelligence agencies were carrying out surveillance on European citizens using data held in the US, the European Parliament passed a report calling on member states to suspend data flows to organisations with US Safe Harbour agreements. [1]

The US has tabled a proposal for the e-commerce chapter that would prohibit the EU from requiring personal data to be stored or processed within Europe. [2] While the US might see data protection as a barrier to trade, protection of personal data is a fundamental right in the EU. [3] If Europe agrees to rule out data localisation, we would be giving up one of the tools we could decide to use to take control of our data and protect our privacy in a post-Snowden world.

The US and the EU have a history of negotiating international trade agreements that included provisions on intellectual property that increased the privileges of multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of society. We must ensure that TTIP does not pose a further threat to our rights to free expression and access to cultural materials. There are reports of industry representatives providing ‘Christmas lists’ of intellectual property demands to the European Commission which the Commission’s TTIP negotiators say they are working on implementing. [4]

So far, digital rights issues have not featured highly in campaigns on TTIP. But digital rights activists and campaigners have grave concerns about what damage TTIP may do to our digital rights.

References:
1 Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure—US wants to undermine privacy in TTIP negotiations:
http://www.acta.ffii.org/?p=2050

2 Report on the US NSA surveillance programme, surveillance bodies in various Member States and their impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights and on transatlantic cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=REPORT&mode=XML&reference=A7-20140139&language=EN

3 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/ pdf/text_en.pdf

4 TTIP: Commission intends to place secret, corporate ‘Christmas list’ of IPRs in trade treaty:
http://www.icg.greens-efa.org/pipermail/hub/2013-December/000084.html