Secret WTO Trade Deal Threatens Internet Freedom, New Leak Reveals

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Secret WTO Trade Deal Threatens Internet Freedom, New Leak Reveals

Newly exposed text of Trade in Services Agreement raises alarm of analysts

"Given the raging domestic debate over net neutrality, the growing demands for more data privacy and the constantly changing technology, a pact negotiated in secret that is not subject to changes absent consensus of all signatories seems like a very bad place to be setting U.S. Internet governance policies," said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen. (Photo: Joseph Gruber/flickr/cc)

"Given the raging domestic debate over net neutrality, the growing demands for more data privacy and the constantly changing technology, a pact negotiated in secret that is not subject to changes absent consensus of all signatories seems like a very bad place to be setting U.S. Internet governance policies," said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen.(Photo: Joseph Gruber/flickr/cc)

Global governments are secretly negotiating a little-known mega trade deal that poses a threat to internet freedoms and boon to corporate interests, analysts warned Wednesday, citing a just-leaked U.S. proposal.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), under discussion between a 50-country subset of  World Trade Organization members for nearly two years, is so secretive that its talks aren't even announced to the public, making it even more shadowy than the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Kept in the dark about the deal, the global public will be hugely impacted by its provisions.

"What these closed-door negotiations do is cement in place rules for global governance—rules that affect a whole host of issues that aren't about trade at all, such as privacy, financial stability and much more," Melinda St. Louis, International Campaigns Director for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, told Common Dreams.

"There is extreme industry influence in this closed-door trade negotiation process," St. Louis explained. "On the U.S. side there are more than 500 corporate advisers who have access to these texts while the public and many elected officials are locked out."

All that is publicly known about the content of the TISA pact was exposed through leaks, the first of which was published by Wikileaks in June and revealed that negotiators aim to further deregulate global financial markets.

The latest leak shows that negotiators are also taking aim at internet freedoms.

TISA's text on "E-Commerce, Technology Transfer, Cross-border Data Flows and Net Neutrality," proposed by the U.S. Trade Representative in April, was published early Wednesday morning by Associated Whistleblowing Press, a non-profit organization with local platforms in Iceland and Spain.

According to an analysis of the text from watchdog organization Public Citizen:

With respect to privacy protections, the leaked text reveals that the U.S. negotiators are pushing for new corporate rights for unrestricted cross-border data flows and prohibitions on requirements to hold and process data locally, thus removing governments’ ability to ensure that private and sensitive personal data is stored and processed only in jurisdictions that ensure privacy.

Such measures are considered critical to ensuring that medical, financial and other data provided protection by U.S. law are not made public when sent offshore for processing and storage, with no legal recourse for affected individuals. Numerous U.S. organizations are pushing for improvements in such policies, which are considerably stronger in other countries. If the proposed TISA terms on free data movement were to become binding on the United States, such needed progress would be foreclosed.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, declared: "Given the raging domestic debate over net neutrality, the growing demands for more data privacy and the constantly changing technology, a pact negotiated in secret that is not subject to changes absent consensus of all signatories seems like a very bad place to be setting U.S. Internet governance policies."

"The US proposal aims to advance the commercial interests of its services industry that supplies services across the border, mainly through e-commerce, and foreign direct investment in manufacturing and services," according to a summary by Public Services International—a global trade union federation.

"The leaked documents confirm our worst fears that TISA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth," said Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary for PSI.

The alarm raised by Public Citizen follows previous criticisms, including from the Global Trade in Services Forum, a gathering of more than 140 representatives from unions, civil society organizations, and governments, which took place in Geneva in October.

"From education to transport, from finance to health," reads a statement from the gathering, "the new Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) is posing serious threats to quality standards in various public sectors that affect the lives of citizens."

Last year, 341 civil society organizations from around the world sent an open letter which declares, "The TISA negotiations largely follow the corporate agenda of using 'trade' agreements to bind countries to an agenda of extreme liberalization and deregulation in order to ensure greater corporate profits at the expense of workers, farmers, consumers and the environment."

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