Censorship, The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement And You

June 23, 2015

Today the last holdouts in the US Senate finally capitulated and handed the US President Fast Track authority, which will allow him to move ahead with approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

The TPP, for those not familiar with it, is "... is a secretive, multinational trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement." from the EFF. The current countries involved in this agreement are US, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei.

If you are not in this group yet, don't be surprised if you are suddenly pushed in.

Of course you might want to read more on it on Reddit, but you would find little reference to it, despite the importance of the topic. Reddit mods have been systemically deleting any submittals that talk about it. Even in r/politics, the number of posts is rather small. I submitted the main CNN article of today to r/news and it was removed promptly, despite it being an important news article, leaving such important articles as Confederate Flag sales at Walmart and politicians wanting to ban them in South Carolina remaining. Even the first few commenters assumed it would vanish quickly.

Why anyone in their right mind thinks that a secret agreement between governments and big business is good for democracy, or for that matter any country with people in it, is beyond me. How is a far-reaching law (forget that it's called a trade agreement, the requirement of each nation is to enforce its provisions, which makes it a law in my eyes) can be hidden from the very public that will affect it is incredible.

All that we know is what has been partially leaked; an incredible security effort surrounds the process, even to the point of forcing US congresspeople and senators to be searched before being allowed to see it but not take any notes. Why do you hide something from the public? Because they wouldn't approve of it, or that it contains something embarrassing to admit you want as a political leader. In countries like China as a citizen you don't get to criticize or even see laws that are passed. Yet here we are in a Republic based on a wonderful Constitution that enumerates our rights yet we can't even know what it contains. Some provisions of the "law" cannot be revealed for 4 years after it is passed. "Democracy, democracy, we don't want no stinking democracy."

Clearly our political leaders, from both parties with a few notable exceptions, fell all over themselves to pass this, likely at behest of whoever they owe allegiance to. Funny that we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which defined the relationship between the king and the barons in England in favor of the barons. Now apparently these modern-day barons have decided to reverse the process, and let the king have his way. What a sad turn of history.

Given what we don't know, but understanding that hidden agreements are always bad for the folks not on the inside, I assume that censorship of another kind is likely to be included. Some day I may write a post saying something unkind to a foreign company (Acme Software steals your bank account details) and they will ring me up at the group of foreign lawyers who will vote that I am indeed in violation of the TPP, and fine me a gazillion dollars. They the US federal government will be obligated to collect, or possibly force me to withdraw my post, despite the Constitutional right to publish. From what I can tell, I cannot seek any redress in a US Court nor have any ability to appeal, as the agreement likely requires all countries to enforce all provisions, including those that might conflict with existing local or national laws.

Of course I could be wrong and it's just a benign agreement that allows poor companies in the US to make a little money overseas. But to know that I'd have to read it and I can't, so speculation is all I have left.

Clearly the intent of pushing this agreement is based on powerful US companies such as the movie industry to force strict requirements on the poor people in other countries. We don't come up with stuff like this for others' benefits. Yet the agreement goes both ways, and there is nothing to stop companies in foreign countries on imposing on ordinary Americans that same way. This can only end well.

What can we do about this? Apparently nothing any more, our leaders whom we voted in (but I may note, I recently voted for none of mine) have decided that secret agreements between the King and the Royalties of foreign governments are perfectly OK and must be good for their financial futures.

Does this effect programmers? Probably we can no longer impose any restrictions on businesses who import programmers to replace us, making visa programs moot. Of course we can all be free to work in some lower paying country. It is a trade agreement after all, written by the very businesses who hope to increase profits by eliminating barriers like clean air, water, jobs or freedom.

I am sure this post will, like so many others, be buried by those who wish the secret not to be discussed, and leave the masses to enjoy their bread and circuses, unaware of how much their lives will be changed for the worse by the secrets of the King.

I guess history does repeat for those who fail to learn from it, or for those who do but are powerless to make a difference. That makes us on par with the poor serfs of 800 years ago, who actually got little out of the Magna Carta other than a dream for a world where there were no secrets, and life was only going to get better.

So if the future TPP approval board decides I am in violation of some provision I shall replace this blog with a giant middle finger.