As Julian Assange’s final appeal of extradition proceeds today, we’d
like to take a moment to reflect on the lessons of Wikileaks.
Wikileaks and its supporters have been relentlessly harassed – both
through the legal system, but more often by the abusive exercise of
raw power. Their alleged ‘crime’? Attempting to bring to light the
conspiracies and deceptions that underly the modern corporate
Transparency is essential to the effective functioning of democracy.
Our votes mean nothing if our elected officials and unelected
bureaucrats can make back room deals without our knowledge. And far
too often, the mainstream media has played along, rather than
fulfilling its civic duty to report truth and hold the powerful
Our institutions having failed us, the task is left up to us. The past
year has demonstrated the Internet to be a powerful force for freedom.
While we don’t subscribe to a naive “just add Twitter and water and
watch your democracy grow” theory, the evidence is overwhelming. The
peaceful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the ongoing struggle in
Syria and the global Occupy movement – all have demonstrated the power
of the Net to effective positive change in the real world lives of
millions. To say nothing of the smaller revolutions, closer to our
hearts and homes- the creation of online communities where we can
explore and express ourselves in a world that’s grown ever-more
conformist and standardized; the planting of seeds of local
reconnection with our neighbors.
New communications technologies have always been a threat to people
and institutions in power; they have responded with repression and
restriction. It took 100 years for kings to clamp down on the printing
press; 30 years from the invention of radio to the creation of the FCC
at the behest of the US Navy and commercial broadcasters. We forget
how young the Internet is – most of us have only had access for the
last 15 years. We believe that because it’s always been open, it
always will be.
The SOPA blackout was an amazing and beautiful show of solidarity in
response to further attempts at censorship. The government’s response?
To take Megaupload offline the very next day. There may have been
piracy going on, but millions of legitimate files were lost. The
add-on effects were powerful – half a dozen of the largest file
hosting sites disabled their sharing functionality in the next few
days. We are losing our ability to communicate, yet again.
Only a few days later, Poland erupted in protests over the ACTA treaty
– an attempt at further Net regulation via policy laundering (sneaking
in changes to domestic law in the form of an international treaty).
ACTA has been characterized by an astounding lack of transparency –
negotiated in secret while excluding civil society and NGOs. For many
years, we only knew what was in the ACTA text because of leaks. The
protests have spread all over Europe, and expanded to include
opposition to versions of SOPA in Ireland and Canada (bill C-11). The
European Parliament’s chief analyst for ACTA resigned, calling the
process a ‘charade’. The Slovenian ambassador apologized for not
listening to her conscience and refusing to sign; she has called for
people to protest ACTA in her name.
In light of this history, we’d like to bring your attention to the
latest back room deal – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). TPP is a
“free trade agreement” that will cover the Pacific Rim – US, Canada,
Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Brunei,
Mexico, Vietnam and eventually others – nearly half the world’s
population. It’s being negotiated in a luxury hotel in West Hollywood
(where else?) RIGHT NOW. It’s been called the Son of ACTA – though as
you’ll see, that description doesn’t go far enough. This treaty is
almost comically, unbelievably evil – it’s still true. We’ll be
tweeting links and updating this post throughout the day; we’ve
consulted the experts and done the best research we can – accurate
information about TPP is hard to find due to the secrecy that
surrounds it. Given the urgency, we believed it was necessary to
publish as soon as possible.
TPP is completely secret and non-transparent.
Our only source of information about it has been leaks – NGOs have been left out in the
cold. Even worse than ACTA, the very meetings themselves have been
kept secret. And the memo declaring them secret? Yup, that’s secret
too. All records from negotiation would be kept hidden for FOUR YEARS
It gets worse though. NGOs got wind of this weeks’ meeting four days
before. At previous rounds, they were at least able to mingle with
negotiators during coffee breaks. Totally excluded for this round,
they booked space in the conference hotel in an attempt to give civil
society a voice – only to have the US Trade Representative call the
hotel and kick them out. Scandalous.
TPP is bad for the Internet and innovation. It would require countries
to criminalize non-commercial copyright violation, a provision aimed
squarely at Bittorrent users – imagine being arrested for sharing MP3s
(or even playing them in public without permission). TPP globalizes
the US DMCA’s provisions on circumventing digital locks (goodbye
jailbreaks) and tries to sneak SOPA’s domain seizure in the back door.
It further extends copyright terms and gives rightsholders total
control over imports of legally acquired, genuine goods – so no
bringing home that Mickey Mouse stuff animal you bought on your
overseas trip without Disney’s permission.
TPP would treat temporary copies as copyright infringement, a
provision rejected during the 1996 WIPO discussions. If enforced, this
would literally destroy the web – a browser simply cannot function
without copying the necessary bits to your local machine for display.
Lest we be accused of exagerating, this provision would also apply to
caches run by mobile phone providers, which are technically necessary
for effective browsing on a phone.
But TPP isn’t just bad for the Internet – it’s bad for everyone. Our
personal favorite: the roll back of the humanitarian exemption for
drug patents (generics). People are literally going to die of AIDS &
tuberculosis to protect Big Pharma’s profits. There’s a similar
situation for seeds and other crops- with patent enforcement at the
borders, Monsanto would be able to order customs agents to seize a
grain shipment on mere suspicion of violating its GMO patents, no
judicial review needed. The US lumber industry is trying to use TPP to
force Canada to sell off its provincial-owned forests – and allow it
to bring clear cutting to our northern neighbor. Other clauses attempt
to roll back global financial regulation put in place after mortgage
crisis. Finally, corporations would be empowered to appeal to
unaccountable global institutions (World Bank, WTO, etc.) to force
governments to compensate them for the loss of expected future profits
due to environmental, health and other regulations. This is nothing
less than a corporate takeover of national sovereignty, plain and
The US Trade Representative Ron Kirk is being “advised” in these
negotiations by a who’s who of the corporate elite (we’ll be
publishing a list later today). At this point, you may be wondering
how the US is going to get other countries to agree to such clearly
unfavorable terms. The USTR uses trade policy as a stick to beat other
countries into line – most favored nation status, the 301 watch list,
tariffs and border controls. Think: “if you want to sell rice, you’ll
implement DRM and drug patents”. We have no objections to tough
bargaining on behalf of Americans, but using this power for the
benefit of a few corporations is outrageous and unacceptable. Don’t be
fooled by arguments about lost jobs – if TPP goes through, the money
will go straight the wealthy elite. This treaty is the very definition
of putting profits over people.
We must act to end the Trans Pacific Partnership NOW.The negotiations
conclude on Friday. We’ll be publishing and tweeting steps you can
take in the next few hours. But we must take action – this cannot be
another round of whining on Twitter and Facebook. If our only outlet
is online, we’re shouting in vain. If you care about freedom,
democracy or the very lives of the people on this planet, you’ll join
us to stop TPP before it’s too late.
We are all Anonymous.