‘Trade Deals’ & Corporate Sovereignty: How Convicted Executives Escape Punishment | Techdirt

A Dubai real estate mogul and former business partner of Donald Trump was sentenced to prison for collaborating on a deal that would swindle the Egyptian people out of millions of dollars — but then he turned to ISDS and got his prison sentence wiped away.

In El Salvador, a court found that a factory had poisoned a village — including dozens of children — with lead, failing for years to take government-ordered steps to prevent the toxic metal from seeping out. But the factory owners’ lawyers used ISDS to help the company dodge a criminal conviction and the responsibility for cleaning up the area and providing needed medical care.

Two financiers convicted of embezzling more than $300 million from an Indonesian bank used an ISDS finding to fend off Interpol, shield their assets, and effectively nullify their punishment.

Source: ‘Trade Deals’ & Corporate Sovereignty: How Convicted Executives Escape Punishment | Techdirt

Trade Commission Report Reveals Few Benefits From the TPP and Ignores its Costs | Electronic Frontier Foundation

The White House has been curiously quiet on the Trans-Pacific Partnership front, following its earlier fanfare about the agreement when it was signed in February. Yesterday with the release of the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC)’s almost 800-page report on the TPP’s Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors [PDF], we can expect the rhetoric to be ramped up again, in attempt to sell the agreement to an increasingly skeptical Congress and public.

Source: Trade Commission Report Reveals Few Benefits From the TPP and Ignores its Costs | Electronic Frontier Foundation

TPP’s Copyright Term Extension Isn’t Made for Artists—It’s Made By and For Big Content Companies | Electronic Frontier Foundation

The following comment was written by Canadian filmmaker, Andrew Hunter, sent to party leaders asking them to come out against the 20-year copyright term extension in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and stand for fair and balanced innovation policy. He emailed this comment as part of our TPP’s Copyright Trap campaign.

Source: TPP’s Copyright Term Extension Isn’t Made for Artists—It’s Made By and For Big Content Companies | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Over 1000 Japanese Citizens Band Together To Sue Their Government Over Participation In TPP

Back in March, we reported on a campaign in Japan seeking to raise awareness about the extreme copyright provisions in TPP. Of course, making copyright even more unbalanced is just one of many problems with TPP, and arguably not even the worst. Now activists in the country have launched a much broader attack on the whole agreement by filing a lawsuit against the Japanese government in an attempt to halt its involvement in the talks. As Mainichi reports:

A total of 1,063 plaintiffs, including eight lawmakers, claimed in the case brought to the Tokyo District Court that the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact would undermine their basic human rights such as the right to live and know that are guaranteed under the Constitution.

The envisaged pact would not only benefit big corporations but jeopardize the country’s food safety and medical systems and destroy the domestic farm sector, according to their written complaint.

As well as oft-voiced concerns that Japan’s key agricultural sector would be harmed, the plaintiffs are also worried that TPP will push up drug prices — something that is a big issue for other nations participating in the negotiations. The new group rightly points out that corporate sovereignty jeopardizes the independence of Japan’s judicial system, and said that the secrecy surrounding the talks:

violates the people’s right to know as the document is confidential and the negotiating process will be kept undisclosed for four years after the agreement takes effect.

Although it is hard to judge how much of a threat this move represents to Japan’s continuing participation in TPP, the legal firepower behind it is certainly impressive: according to the Mainichi story, there are 157 people on the legal team. At the very least, it shows that resistance to TPP and its one-sided proposals is growing — and not just in the US. But you can’t help thinking it would have been a good idea for concerned Japanese citizens to have made this move earlier, rather than leaving it to the eleventh hour, with TPP close to the finishing line.

Link (Techdirt)

A Trade Deal Read In Secret By Only A Few (Or Maybe None)

Senate leaders were all smiles Wednesday after they broke a 24-hour impasse and announced they had reached a deal on how to move forward on a fast-track trade negotiating bill. That legislation would give the president expedited authority to enter into a trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries, otherwise known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

But how senators will vote on this bill depends largely on how they feel about TPP. And there’s one problem.

“I bet that none of my colleagues have read the entire document. I would bet that most of them haven’t even spent a couple hours looking at it,” said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has acknowledged he has yet to read every single page of the trade agreement.

Because, as Brown explained, even if a member of Congress were to hunker down and pore over a draft trade agreement hundreds of pages long, filled with technical jargon and confusing cross-references –- what good would it do? Just sitting down and reading the agreement isn’t going to make its content sink in.

For any senator who wants to study the draft TPP language, it has been made available in the basement of the Capitol, inside a secure, soundproof room. There, lawmakers surrender their cellphones and other mobile devices. Any notes taken inside the room must be left in the room.

Only aides with high-level security clearances can accompany lawmakers. Members of Congress can’t ask outside industry experts or lawyers to analyze the language. They can’t talk to the public about what they read. And Brown says there’s no computer inside the secret room to look something up when there’s confusion. You just consult the USTR official.

“There is more access in most cases to CIA and Defense Department and Iran sanctions documents — better access to congressional staff and others — than for this trade agreement,” said Brown.

Link (NPR)

“You Can Read My Notes? Not on Your Life!”: Top Democratic Senator Blasts Obama’s TPP Secrecy

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., today blasted the secrecy shrouding the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

“They said, well, it’s very transparent. Go down and look at it,” said Boxer on the floor of the Senate. “Let me tell you what you have to do to read this agreement. Follow this: you can only take a few of your staffers who happen to have a security clearance — because, God knows why, this is secure, this is classified. It has nothing to do with defense. It has nothing to do with going after ISIS.”

Boxer, who has served in the House and Senate for 33 years, then described the restrictions under which members of Congress can look at the current TPP text.

“The guard says, ‘you can’t take notes.’ I said, ‘I can’t take notes?’” Boxer recalled. “‘Well, you can take notes, but have to give them back to me, and I’ll put them in a file.’ So I said: ‘Wait a minute. I’m going to take notes and then you’re going to take my notes away from me and then you’re going to have them in a file, and you can read my notes? Not on your life.’”

Link (The Intercept)

You Can’t Read the TPP, But These Huge Corporations Can

The Senate today is holding a key procedural vote that would allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be “fast-tracked.”

So who can read the text of the TPP? Not you, it’s classified. Even members of Congress can only look at it one section at a time in the Capitol’s basement, without most of their staff or the ability to keep notes.

But there’s an exception: if you’re part of one of 28 U.S. government-appointed trade advisory committees providing advice to the U.S. negotiators. The committees with the most access to what’s going on in the negotiations are 16 “Industry Trade Advisory Committees,” whose members include AT&T, General Electric, Apple, Dow Chemical, Nike, Walmart and the American Petroleum Institute.

The TPP is an international trade agreement currently being negotiated between the US and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia, Chile, Singapore and Malaysia. Among other things, it could could strengthen copyright laws, limit efforts at food safety reform and allow domestic policies to be contested by corporations in an international court. Its impact is expected to be sweeping, yet venues for public input hardly exist.

Industry Trade Advisory Committees, or ITACs, are cousins to Federal Advisory Committees like the National Petroleum Council that I wrote about recently. However, ITACs are functionally exempt from many of the transparency rules that generally govern Federal Advisory Committees, and their communications are largely shielded from FOIA in order to protect “third party commercial and/or financial information from disclosure.” And even if for some reason they wanted to tell someone what they’re doing, members must sign non-disclosure agreements so they can’t “compromise” government negotiating goals. Finally, they also escape requirements to balance their industry members with representatives from public interest groups.

The result is that the Energy and Energy Services committee includes the National Mining Association and America’s Natural Gas Alliance but only one representative from a company dedicated to less-polluting wind and solar energy.

The Information and Communications Technologies, Services, and Electronic Commerce committee includes representatives from Verizon and AT&T Services Inc. (a subsidiary of AT&T), which domestically are still pushing hard against new net neutrality rules that stop internet providers from creating more expensive online fast-lanes.

And the Intellectual Property Rights committee includes the Recording Industry Association of America, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Apple, Johnson and Johnson and Yahoo, rather than groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which shares the industry’s expertise in intellectual property policy but has an agenda less aligned with business.

Link (The Intercept)

Agency Overseeing Obama Trade Deals Filled With Former Trade Lobbyists

The Office of the United States Trade Representative, the agency responsible for negotiating two massive upcoming trade deals, is being led by former lobbyists for corporations that stand to benefit from the deals, according to disclosure forms obtained by The Intercept.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed free trade accord between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a similar agreement between the U.S. and the E.U.

The Obama administration is pushing hard to complete both deals, which it says will increase U.S. trade opportunities. Critics say the deals will provide corporate interests with sweeping powers to challenge banking and environmental regulations.

Here is information on three major figures in the Trade Representative’s office, gleaned from their disclosure forms:

— Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, the assistant U.S. trade representative for agricultural affairs, recently lobbied for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group for biotech companies. Lauritsen’s financial disclosure form shows she made $320,193 working to influence “state, federal and international governments” on biotech patent and intellectual property issues. She worked for BIO as an executive vice president through April of 2011, before joining the Trade Representative office.

— Christopher Wilson, the deputy chief of mission to the World Trade Organization, recently worked for C&M International, a trade consulting group, where he represented Chevron, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, British American Tobacco, General Electric, Apple and other corporate interests. Wilson’s financial disclosure shows he made $250,000 a year, in addition to an $80,000 bonus in 2013, before he joined the Obama administration. Wilson left C&M International in February of 2014 and later joined the Trade Representative’s office. C&M International reportedly lobbied Malaysia, urging it to oppose tobacco regulations in Australia.

— Robert Holleyman, the deputy United States trade representative, previously worked as the president of the Business Software Alliance, a lobbying group that represents IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and other technology companies seeking to strengthen copyright law. Holleyman earned $1,141,228 at BSA before his appointment. Holleyman was nominated for his current position in February of last year.

Link (The Intercept)

Under President’s New Cybersecurity Executive Order… Is Wikileaks Now An Evil Cyberhacker For Releasing Trade Deal?

Yesterday we talked about the ridiculousness of President Obama’s new cybersecurity executive order, in which he declares a national emergency around “malicious cyber-enabled activities” and enables his own government to do mean things to anyone they think is responsible for cyber badness (that his own NSA is the primary instigator of serious cyberattacks gets left ignored, of course). One of the points we made is that the definitions in the executive agreement were really vague, meaning that it’s likely that they could be abused in all sorts of ways that we wouldn’t normally think of as malicious hacking.

Helpfully, the ever vigilant Marcey Wheeler has provided some examples of how the vague language can and likely will be twisted:

The EO targets not just the hackers themselves, but also those who benefit from or materially support hacks. The targeting of those who are “responsible for or complicit in … the receipt or use for commercial or competitive advantage … by a commercial entity, outside the United States of trade secrets misappropriated through cyber-enabled means, … where the misappropriation of such trade secrets is reasonably likely to result in, or has materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States” could be used to target journalism abroad. Does WikiLeaks’ publication of secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations qualify? Does Guardian’s publication of contractors’ involvement in NSA hacking?

And, that’s not all. How about encryption providers? Not too hard to see how they might qualify:

And the EO creates a “material support” category similar to the one that, in the terrorism context, has been ripe for abuse. Its targets include those who have “provided … material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of” such significant hacks. Does that include encryption providers? Does it include other privacy protections?And the EO creates a “material support” category similar to the one that, in the terrorism context, has been ripe for abuse. Its targets include those who have “provided … material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of” such significant hacks. Does that include encryption providers? Does it include other privacy protections?

We’ve already seen some — including government officials — argue that Twitter could be deemed to be providing “material support” to ISIS if it didn’t take down Twitter accounts that support ISIS. Twitter wouldn’t directly qualify under this executive order (which targets non-US actors), but it shows you how easy it is to stretch this kind of thinking in dangerous ways.

Making sure the technology we use every day is secure is important. But vaguely worded executive orders and an over-hyped “national emergency” isn’t the solution. Instead, it’s likely to be abused in serious ways that harm our freedoms.

Link (Techdirt)