Unexpected new allies are surfacing in the fight against the anti-democratic Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a secretive and extreme deal that experts say would make the Internet more censored, expensive, and policed.
With the next round of negotiations imminent - taking place in Ottawa from July 3-12 - Hollywood bigwigs including Jay Leno and Ellen Degeneres have implored the community to boycott an iconic Beverly Hills hotel owned by the Sultan of Brunei, one of the original signatories to the TPP in 2005, and the location of a recent round of TPP negotiations that took place last August.
The boycott emerged following an announcement from the Sultan that Brunei would begin phasing in a harsh new penal code, and has celebrities and other Beverly Hills locals calling on the U.S. government to expel Brunei from the trade agreement.
Hollywood is only the latest to join the growing list of opponents to Brunei’s inclusion in the TPP deal. Already, 119 members of congress have signed a letter demanding that Brunei be expelled from the agreement due to harsh punishments for homosexuality and adultery that the United Nations has condemned as contravening international law and has called “cruel and inhuman.”
The lobbyists and bureaucrats supporting the TPP claim that the deal is a way for "like-minded countries" to work together in an increasingly globalized world where there is immense pressure to build new economic ties.
Critics, however, are highly skeptical of the claim that the TPP fits such a description, calling attention to the muzzling of free speech in Southeast Asia, specifically in the case of Brunei where the Sultan threatened to harshly punish Internet users who speak out online against the new laws.
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Singapore and Vietnam, two more participants in the the TPP talks, have also been roundly criticized for their anti-democratic approach to free speech, especially online, going so far as to block social media networks and sue bloggers.
Allegations of censorship and intimidation by states party to the TPP raise a fair question: are we indeed negotiating with “like-minded countries”? There is a lot at stake here, as the TPP could make an already deteriorating free speech situation even worse.
We know from leaked documents that the TPP would force ISPs to act as the Internet Police, censoring content and even removing entire websites for alleged copyright infringement. Under the proposed agreement, ordinary Internet users could face fines for clicking on the wrong link, and ISPs would have the power to kick entire families off the Internet if they are suspected of breaking the newly imposed rules.
In light of this, we as partners in the negotiation need to assess if it is ethical to equip countries with a demonstrated history of suppressing free speech with another tool which could be abused to the detriment of ordinary citizens.
This week, OpenMedia.org will be launching a new tool that will help Internet users everywhere raise a red flag and tell negotiators of the agreement what concerns them most about the TPP. Check out our Face to Face with Internet Censorship tool today - you can add your comments, and we’ll have a member of our team add your voice to the growing numbers of pro-Internet citizens who want to see more transparency in the TPP.