The Information Policy Blog

The (unofficial) blog of the BCLA Information Policy Committee

Monthly Archives: November 2013

Reactions to the Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Document – It’s Pretty Terrible

A chapter from the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement was leaked this week (thank you WikiLeaks) and the text is as draconian and terrible as we had feared.

From Consumer Affairs:

WikiLeaks published the complete draft of the Intellectual Property chapter for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed international commercial pact between the United States and 11 Asian and Latin American countries. Although talks started in 2008, this is the first access the public and press have had to this text. The administration has refused to make draft TPP text public, despite announcing intentions to sign the deal by year’s end. Signatory nations’ laws would be required to conform to TPP terms.

The leak shows the United States seeking to impose the most extreme demands of Big Pharma and Hollywood, Public Citizen said, despite the express and frequently universal opposition of U.S. trade partners.

There are other commentators talking about it very astutely right now, but one of the most important things is how this agreement would make the possibility for change in copyright regimes insanely difficult:

The second that Congress tries to change a law that goes against the TPP — such as, say, reducing the term of copyrights from the insane level today to merely crazy — lobbyists and pundits will come screaming from every direction about how we can’t abandon our “international obligations.” We’ll hear horror stories about how breaking the agreement will have widespread implications, including trade wars, tariffs and other horrible things. Once it’s in the trade agreement, “breaking it” becomes effectively impossible.

The lobbyists for the entertainment industry know this stuff cold. Over the past three decades they’ve perfected this process of getting crap they can’t get done in Congress pushed through in various trade agreements, and then they use that to mold US law to exactly how they want it.

Now that is from a US perspective, but is there any reason to think that Canada would push for fewer restrictions in defiance of a trade agreement like this? Strangely enough, according to Michael Geist’s first reading of the document, there is:

Interestingly, Canada has also promoted Canadian-specific solutions on many issues. The bad news is that the U.S. – often joined by Australia – is demanding that Canada rollback its recent copyright reform legislation with a long list of draconian proposals.

We have our own issues with copyright laws here, but an agreement like this would seem to effectively wipe out any progress we’re making in favour of stricter more punitive laws designed not for and by citizens but corporations.

As we’ve come to expect in this arena, OpenMedia is on the case, providing good calls to action for citizens, though they’re focused on the ISP billing aspect and its anti-consumer implications. The TPP also would turn our Internet Service Providers into copyright police:

Instead of your ISPs selling you a connection service, the TPP will force them to pry into what you’re doing online. The TPP will make ISPs legally responsible if any of their hundreds of thousands of customers downloads illegal content.

A Councillor for the Pirate Party Australia pointed out the punitive nature of aspects of this agreement in a way that could have real implications for libraries:

Perhaps the most shocking inclusion in the TPP IP chapter is criminalisation of non-commercial copyright infringement. Article QQ.H.7.2 contains language that is supported by the United States and by Australia, that would potentially imprison people considered to have committed infringement on a “commercial scale”, regardless of whether there was a financial incentive. This is a fundamentally unbalanced proposal.

Librarians should probably be concerned about that kind of thing. Is the important accessibility work that a Canadian organization like the National Network for Equitable Library Service does on a large enough scale to run afoul of these provisions? Could we be sending anyone who helps break DRM for format shifting purposes to jail? Maybe not, but we are not being given a voice in this debate.

Secret negotiations on issues that affect us, including huge trade agreements, are bullshit. People deserve to have a real voice and make informed choices as to what happens in their lives. Please read up on the TPP (OpenMedia compiled a good bunch of links today) and make yourself heard.

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Elizabeth Denham and Terms & Conditions May Apply – #MDD2013

Media Democracy Days 2013 was this past weekend in Vancouver and I was glad to be able to attend. In the IPC we’d talked a couple of months ago about trying to get together a screening of the film Terms & Conditions May Apply, and were happily pre-empted from that by the Media Democracy Project showing the movie at the Cinematheque on Friday night. Thanks

Before showing the movie though, Elizabeth Denham talked to the audience about her role as Information and Privacy Commissioner for the province of BC. It was a good talk, which highlighted some of the important reasons citizens should be concerned about their lack of privacy and how their rights are being protected.

Her main themes were transparency and accountability and how those principles are necessary for a democratic government to function. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” was one of the phrases she used. This led into a discussion of how every scandal one can think of in government has an Access to Information angle to it. It’s the perception of secrecy by those people in power that messes everything up, because an informed citizenry knows you shouldn’t just rely on the goodwill of the folks making up whatever government is in power at any given time.

One of the things she discussed was how new democracies are so much better at enshrining laws about transparency and privacy regulation than older, more established democracies. When a country makes a constitution now, privacy rights are clearly seen as fundamental and get strong wording to protect them (in theory – she didn’t provide any specific examples).

The biggest concern Denham had for the future was the complacency of our citizens on privacy and transparency issues. keep these issues of privacy in the front of people’s minds. Even though no Canadian Snowden has dropped a bunch of CSEC powerpoint presentations in our laps there should still be a deep concern about the systematic collection of our personal data. Denham encouraged the audience to advocate and politicize this issue, and really, that’s something that librarians have every opportunity to do.

There is a real divide out there between people who have the technical knowledge to deal with privacy invasions and the people without that knowledge. We are out there working with people and their information habits every day. We need to be using the goodwill we create to try to correct the imbalance between what corporations and governments know about us and what we know about them. Denham talked about how important it was to pull back the curtain enshrouding these secret decisions.

The movie

Terms & Conditions May Apply is a movie about the things we agree to when we click through End User Licensing Agreements and how much information we are giving away to be used against us later. There were interviews with people from the EFF and the ACLU as well as with people held on pre-crime charges and the British guy who was banned from entering the US because he tweeted about how he was ready to go destroy America.

The movie was completed before Snowden and his big revelations about the NSA, but there was an added-on postscript mentioning it and how much that plays into the rest of the film.

It was a good documentary. If you’ve been immersing yourself in these types of issues there wasn’t a lot of really new stuff, but there was an ambush interview of Mark Zuckerberg, which was done well and used effectively. The weirdest part was that they had Orson Scott Card talking for a few sentences. Thankfully, it wasn’t about his thoughts on homosexuality, but it was a little weird.

Open Access Salon Writeup (& more) in the BCLA Browser

Not only has Allison Trumble done a great job organizing the rebirth of the IPC salons, she wrote up last week’s for the BCLA Browser: IPC Salon: Open Access Week. Thanks Allison!

The Browser also has an article by Leanna Jantzi about BCLA joining the Protect Our Privacy Coalition, which we in the IPC are very proud to be a part of.