Growing Controversy over Investor-State Corporate Privileges in U.S.-EU Deal
A Trade Storm Is Brewing

The TPP Would Enroll More Online Spies

By Alberto Cerda, founding member of the Chilean organization Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights)

This article was published this morning (in Spanish) on the Derechos Digitales website here:

As if we don’t have enough spying on Internet users, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) includes draft rules that would increase significantly the role of online service providers in keeping an eye on their users, under the pretext of combatting copyright piracy. Even if you are not an infringer, your Internet service provider (ISP) will be watching you, just in case.

The TPP is a so-called trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. and eleven countries around the Pacific Rim. The TPP would establish binding rules for domestic policies in several fields, from agricultural goods and services to investment and public procurement. The agreement also includes new rules for enforcing intellectual property on the Internet, modeled to some extent on current U.S. law, but in an unbalanced way that fails to incorporate crucial safeguards or allow for policy evolution in the digital environment.

Draft rules under negotiation would impose on Internet service providers a legal obligation to fight against online copyright infringement. This obligation is embodied in several provisions, which would require, for example, ISPs to communicate to their users any supposed infringement committed through their accounts, take down from the Internet information that supposedly infringes on copyright, and collect information that allows identification of users that supposedly have infringed the law.[1]

For most non-American users, these rules are new and raise a number of significant concerns about their potential abuse and misuse by the government, corporations and the big content industry.

For American users, these rules may look similar to the heavily criticized Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). But the difference is that these rules may go beyond current U.S. law – and as part of a trade agreement they would be much more difficult to overturn, because of being enforceable under international trade law – if U.S. citizens opposed the new rules, Congress wouldn’t be able to repeal them without exposing the country to possible trade sanctions.

Under current U.S. law, companies that provide Internet services are required to participate in enforcing copyright law or risk being held liable for their users’ infringement. This means that companies like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon are required to help enforce the copyrights of the recording and motion picture industries, for example, against their own users who are purported to have infringed upon a copyright. The TPP would take this a step further by enrolling new groups to spy on us by collecting online data about their users.

First, the TPP includes provisions that would extend spying obligations not only to entities that provide Internet services, but to “any person,” thus, not only Internet-related companies would be required to enforce the law, but “any person,” whether human or otherwise.[2] Rights holders would likely interpret this obligation as applying to the manager of a free-wifi zone at Starbucks or your favorite neighborhood cafe, to public libraries and schools, as well as to that neighbor of yours who shares her wifi by keeping it accessible and open.

Second, TPP provisions do not seem to limit this spying to the Internet. Instead they refer to online providers,[3] which may extend the scope of the law to other digital networks, such as intranets and private networks. What does this mean? It means that not only ISPs would be spying on you by collecting user data to protect Hollywood’s copyrights, but also other providers of online services, like the private network you use at your workplace, at your university, or even at your kid’s school, even if those networks do not provide actual access to or from the Internet.

Although the TPP states that Internet service providers would not be required by law to “monitor” users, it encourages this practice.[4] Therefore, the TPP would leave open the door for private agreements between copyright holders (such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America) and Internet companies for enforcing the law against Internet users (for example, see the Center for Copyright Information).[5] This raises concerns about powerful content industry players working together to promote abusive practices to enforce their interests against supposed infringers, since, in order to prevent any liability, online service providers may collaborate with rights holders to enforce copyrights beyond what is required by the law.[6]

In sum, the TPP would impose new obligations for spying on Internet users under the guise of enforcing copyright. This should raise concerns not only among countries that currently lack such regulations, but also among U.S. citizens, because the TPP would expand the online spy network at home.


[1] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, number  4.

[2] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, footnote 237.

[3] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, footnote 237.

[4] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, number 5.

[6] TPP, Intellectual Property [Rights] Chapter, Addendum III, number 1.

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Gloria Watkins

If this come into being, does that mean that our ISP's will be in cahoots with the "enemy"? Then, what DOES THE ISP STAND to gain from this practice? We pay them to use their service, don't we? Are the ISP going to get paid to help them? Sounds like Double-Dealing. It also sounds like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Who has the power to block such an arrangement? Do we need to start a process to let our voices be heard on such an act? If I read this right, doesn't the President have a Private Network? Who will protect the Country? Sounds like this is something we don't want to live with.

Markus You

Wouldn't more surveillance, in every conceivable kind of setting (and more jobs requiring security clearances) be necessary to exempt some jobs from TISA and the other FTA's wage lowering effects (by being put into the computerized procurement system and possibly becoming low wage/globalized)

Jobs involving national security or secrets, even mundane ones involving ubiquitous technologies, would clearly be covered under the WTO general agreement on trade in services defined exceptions.


I already have a huge network of security features on my devices, from extreme antivirus and anti keylogging to shutting on and off my cams and mics to thwart in part these spies that want to invade my privacy. What is the real agenda, guys? Copywriter protection? Come on. The more invasive they (government) becomes, the easier it is to pinpoint exactly who is online protesting against them. Thanks to apps and built in features requiring location services, they'll find the "perpetrators" and silence them. I say bring it. I'm not going silent. I'll exercise my Freedom of Speech until I'm permanently gagged.

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