Amid White House Push for Fast Track, Digital Rights Groups Mount Call for Opposition

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Amid White House Push for Fast Track, Digital Rights Groups Mount Call for Opposition

Groups urge Sen. Wyden to stand up for transparency, say trade deals threaten Internet users' rights

The letter to Sen. Wyden states that the deals could "carry provisions threatening Internet freedom and the digital rights of users without full Congressional input."  (Photo: Frank Esposito, Fox Valley Citizens For Peace and Justice)

As the Obama administration continues its push for Fast Track trade authority, a group of digital rights groups on on Tuesday urged the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee to stand up for transparency and Internet users by opposing the process.

Fast Track, also called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), can push a trade deal's passage through Congress by giving the president executive power to negotiate deals without Congressional consultation and then gives the body only an up or down vote on the deal.

President Obama has been doubling down on his effort to push forth Fast Track as the administration continues negotiations on two major trade deals— the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) .

The groups behind the new call for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to oppose Fast Track are Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet Archive, Knowledge Ecology International, New Media Rights, OpenMedia International and Public Knowledge. They write that the authority could be used to ram through deals that "carry provisions threatening Internet freedom and the digital rights of users without full Congressional input."

The letter states: "we need you to stand up against weak compromises and amendments to TPA that do not fully address the glaring lack of transparency and democratic oversight in trade negotiations, and apply retroactively to current negotiations including TTIP and TPP."

"Overwhelming" influence from powerful industry could "prevent the US from reforming and updating its laws to new digital realities in the coming decades," the letter warns.

"Please do not support TPA. The Internet is counting on you," the letter concludes.

Carolina Rossini, Vice President for International Policy of Public Knowledge, added in a media statement Tuesday: "The digital rights norms set in the 21st century agreements, including the TPP and the TTIP will directly impact billions of people. At this point they’ve had no say in the drafting of these agreements, and that’s unacceptable."

"We’ve learned from previous leaks and conversations with policy makers that at least three chapters (the intellectual property chapter, the services chapter, and the e-commerce chapter) of the TPP could impact our consumer and online rights. We urge Congress to avoid the mistake of authorizing Fast Track, which could risk these rights," Rossini stated.

The groups' letter comes the same day as United States Trade Representative Michael Froman spoke at Wyden's Senate Committee on Finance, where he said that Fast Track "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."

Froman also called it "Congress’s best tool to ensure that there is ample time for public scrutiny and debate on U.S. trade agreements."

Yet negotiations for TPP have already been taking place for five years, and the White House's senior Asia advisor said last week that the deal was "in the end game of its negotiations." Both deals have also been criticized for secrecy surrounding the texts.

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