The White House Has Gone Full Doublespeak on Fast Track and the TPP

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EFF.orgSen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch are now in a stand-off over a bill that would put secre­tive trade deals like the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP) agree­ment on the Fast Track to pas­sage through Con­gress. The White House mean­while, has inten­si­fied their pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign, going so far as to mis­lead the pub­lic about how trade deals—like the TPP and its coun­ter­part, the Transat­lantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP)—will effect the Inter­net and users’ rights. They are cre­at­ing videos, writ­ing sev­er­al blog posts, and then this week, even sent out a let­ter from an “online small busi­ness own­er” to every­one on the White House­’s mas­sive email list, to fur­ther mis­in­form the pub­lic about Fast Track.

tpp_handshake_actionblog_0In a blog post pub­lished this week, the White House flat out uses dou­ble­s­peak to tout the ben­e­fits of the TPP, even going so far as to claim that with­out these new trade agree­ments, “there would be no rules pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can inven­tion, artis­tic cre­ativ­i­ty, and research”. That is pure bogus, much like the oth­er lies the White House has been recent­ly say­ing about its trade poli­cies. Let’s look at the four main myths they have been say­ing to sell law­mak­ers and the pub­lic on Fast Track for the TPP.

Myth #1: TPP Is Good for the Internet

First, there are the claims that this agree­ment will cre­ate “stronger pro­tec­tions of a free and open Inter­net”. As we know from pre­vi­ous leaks of the TPP’s Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty chap­ter, the com­plete oppo­site is true. Most of all, the TPP’s ISP lia­bil­i­ty pro­vi­sions could cre­ate greater incen­tives for Inter­net and con­tent providers to block and fil­ter con­tent, or even mon­i­tor their users in the name of copy­right enforce­ment. What they believe are efforts toward pro­tect­ing the future of the Inter­net are pro­vi­sions they’re advo­cat­ing for in this and oth­er secret agree­ments on the “free flow of infor­ma­tion”. In short, these are poli­cies aimed at sub­vert­ing data local­iza­tion laws.

Such an oblig­a­tion could be a good or a bad thing, depend­ing on what kind of impact it could have on nation­al cen­sor­ship, or con­sumer pro­tec­tions for per­son­al data. It’s a com­pli­cat­ed issue with­out an easy solution—which is exact­ly why this should not be decid­ed through secre­tive trade nego­ti­a­tions. These “free flow of infor­ma­tion” rules have like­ly been lob­bied for by major tech com­pa­nies, which do not want laws to restrict them on how they deal with users’ data. It is dis­hon­est to say that what these tech com­pa­nies can do with peo­ple’s data is good for all users and the Inter­net at large.

Myth #2: Fast Track Would Strengthen Congressional Oversight

The sec­ond, oft-repeat­ed claim is that Fast Track would strength­en con­gres­sion­al oversight—which is again not true. The U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive has made this claim through­out the past cou­ple months, includ­ing at a Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee hear­ing in Jan­u­ary when he said:

TPA puts Con­gress in the driver’s seat to define our nego­ti­at­ing objec­tives and strength­ens Con­gres­sion­al over­sight by requir­ing con­sul­ta­tions and trans­paren­cy through­out the nego­ti­at­ing process.

Maybe we could believe this if the White House had fought for Fast Track before del­e­gates began nego­ti­at­ing the TPP and TTIP. Maybe it could also have been true if that bill had ensured that Con­gress mem­bers had easy access to the text and kept a close leash on the White House through­out the process to ensure that the nego­ti­at­ing objec­tives they out­lined were in fact being met in the deal. How­ev­er, we know from the past sev­er­al years of TPP nego­ti­a­tions, that Con­gress has large­ly been shut out of the process. Many mem­bers of Con­gress have spo­ken out about the White House­’s strict rules that have made it exceed­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to influ­ence or even see the terms of these trade deals.

The only way Fast Track could real­ly put “Con­gress in the dri­ver’s seat” over trade pol­i­cy would be if it ful­ly addressed the lack of con­gres­sion­al over­sight over the TPP and TTIP thus far. Law­mak­ers should be able to hold unlim­it­ed debate over the poli­cies being pro­posed in these deals, and if it comes to it, to amend their pro­vi­sions. It would be mean­ing­less if the new Fast Track bill enabled more con­gres­sion­al over­sight, but if it did not apply to agree­ments that are ongo­ing or almost completed.

Myth #3: Small Online Businesses Would Benefit from Fast Track

Then the third mis­lead­ing claim is that Fast Track would help small busi­ness­es. Their rep­e­ti­tion of this has become loud­er amid increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness that the TPP has pri­mar­i­ly been dri­ven by major cor­po­ra­tions. What may be good for estab­lished multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies could also ben­e­fit cer­tain small online busi­ness­es as well. The White House says that tar­iffs are hin­der­ing small online busi­ness­es from sell­ing their prod­ucts abroad, but research has shown that the kinds of tra­di­tion­al trade bar­ri­ers, like tar­iffs, that past trade agree­ments were nego­ti­at­ed to address are already close to non-exis­tent. There­fore it is unclear what oth­er kind of ben­e­fits online busi­ness­es would see from the TPP.

Even if there were some ben­e­fits, there are many more ways that the TPP could harm small Inter­net-based com­pa­nies. The TPP’s copy­right pro­vi­sions could lead to poli­cies where ISPs would be forced to imple­ment cost­ly sys­tems to over­see all users’ activ­i­ties and process each take­down notice they receive. They could also dis­cour­age invest­ment in new inno­v­a­tive start-ups, even those that plan to “play by the rules”, due to the risk that com­pa­nies would have to sink sig­nif­i­cant resources into legal defens­es against copy­right hold­ers, or face heavy deter­rent penal­ties for infringe­ment estab­lished by the TPP.

Myth #4: TPP and Other Secret Trade Deals Are a National Security Issue

The last, and most con­found­ing of the White House­’s asser­tions is that the TPP and TTIP are an “inte­gral part” of the Unit­ed States’ nation­al secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy, because its “glob­al strate­gic inter­ests are inti­mate­ly linked with [its] broad­er eco­nom­ic inter­ests.” As we have seen with the U.S. gov­ern­men­t’s expan­sive sur­veil­lance regime, “nation­al secu­ri­ty” is often invoked for poli­cies even if they direct­ly under­mine our civ­il lib­er­ties. It is hard to argue with the admin­is­tra­tion whether the TPP and TTIP are in fact in the Unit­ed States’ eco­nom­ic or strate­gic inter­ests, since only they are allowed to see the entire con­tents of these agree­ments. Either way, it seems like a huge stretch to say that we can trust the White House and major cor­po­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tives to deter­mine, in secret, what is in fact good dig­i­tal pol­i­cy for the coun­try and the world. We may be hear­ing this line more and more in the com­ing weeks as the White House becomes more des­per­ate to legit­imize the need for Fast Track to pass the TPP and TTIP.


The fact that the White House has resort­ed to dis­tort­ing the truth about its trade poli­cies is enough to demon­strate how lit­tle the admin­is­tra­tion val­ues hon­esty and trans­paren­cy in pol­i­cy mak­ing, and how much the pub­lic stands to lose from these agree­ments nego­ti­at­ed in secret. The more they try and espouse the poten­tial gains from Fast Track—while the trade agree­ments this leg­is­la­tion would advance remain secret—the more rea­son we ought to be skep­ti­cal. If the TPP is so great and if Fast Track would in fact enable more demo­c­ra­t­ic over­sight, why are the con­tents of either of them still not public?


If you’re in the Unit­ed States, take action to stop TPP and oth­er anti-user trade deals from get­ting fast-tracked through Con­gress by con­tact­ing your law­mak­er about trade pro­mo­tion authority: