When first glimpsing the headline in Wired, I had to do a double-take. I didn’t just read ’’digital activists” and “Hail Trump” favorably referenced together in the same sentence, did I? But it’s no mirage, and is not really a surprise, since killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a core element of the populist protectionism platform that elevated Donald Trump to the Oval Office.
With Trump’s majority appointees to the FCC saber rattling over net neutrality and other issues, let’s take a step back and see why this may just be a one-off. We’ll also explore why civil libertarians are so giddy in this specific instance.
“The TPP would have been a bad deal for digital rights, so we welcome its demise,” says Jeremy Malcolm, a senior global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF is not alone in celebrating the apparent collapse of the TPP. Groups such as Doctors Without Borders and the Sierra Club have gone on record against it. In their judgment, not only was the TPP concocted in darkness and thereby lacking in transparency, but it also had the potential to restrict freedom of information.
Tech companies, on the other hand, loved the deal because its patent protections would have covered their most profitable products, and thus increased the all-important bottom line. One could say that the battle lines were already drawn, during the hotly contested presidential election. Not only did the techies favor the TPP, which Donald Trump campaigned against, they opened their wallets to heavily support Hillary Clinton.
So, now they are double slam-dunked. But why were privacy advocates so against the trade agreement?
For one, the TPP’s ban on local data storage meant big tech companies would be able to do what they wanted with the massive amounts of data they collect on users. This, civil libertarians argued, would imperil consumer privacy protections, and, armed with more info and data, allow the tech companies to further their advertising and monetizing assault on internet users. It’s little wonder why the biggies of the industry (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft) led the offensive for the TPP.
But, I suspect, the overarching argument against the deal came down to the potential outflow of jobs abroad that it presented. This was, after all, a centerpiece of Trump’s Electoral College victory, which propelled him to the White House.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the bi-lateral agreements with countries could not include some damaging provisions to the privacy community. And, further, that the individual agreements with countries might not closely resemble the trashed TPP.
But, in such cases, there will probably be more much-needed transparency. Something that was missing in Obama’s pell-mell rush to burnish his legacy… apparently at any cost.
Also, if done in such a way, the deals could be opposed, if necessary, one piece at a time, versus swallowing one agreement, like the TPP, in one gulp.
Indeed, one of President Trump’s core objections to the TPP was the multilateral nature of the deal, in which each signatory would be on a par with the US, the largest economy on the planet. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, seemed to confirm this, saying,
“The multinational agreements allow any one of those twelve countries to have the same stature as the US.”
This position is consistent with Trump’s disdain for the UN, in which pariah nations and banana republics have the same vote-weight in the General Assembly as the mighty US, even when they don’t pay their dues (Editor’s note: as alleged by Trump).
However, if the only tangible difference with this, one of Trump’s initial forays, is transparency, that in itself will mark a stark contrast with the past administration. We all know only too well that “the most transparent administration in history” was anything but. So, is this a new beginning, or only a feint? Time will tell.