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The fight for a globally unified and open Internet will never end, but so far the Internet community has been on a winning streak. This has become apparent to both Congress and to the forces that supported SOPA. It is this dynamic that has prompted the preemptive effort by policy makers attempting to pass major cyber security legislation to explain how their legislation is not SOPA.
It is also what is fueling the effort by SOPA supporters and their allies in government to keep everything that is happening in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a mystery to the public.
When decisions on Internet policy were publicly debated as they were with SOPA, virtually everything supporters wanted from the Internet (after spending more than $100 million lobbying) was rejected by the American people. Therefore, the only way to counteract this in the future is to avoid a public debate altogether. That is why TPP has been, and remains to be, drafted and negotiated (with special interests' involvement) completely in secret.
If TPP is not subject to basic transparency and a public debate, Congress will pass a TPP containing any number of the rejected provisions of SOPA through a process called policy laundering. This is due to the fact that a trade agreement, once it comes to Congress, will only happen after the White House receives a renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). This authority will allow the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to submit to Congress a finalized trade agreement that prompts a mandatory vote and could not be amended, filibustered, or blocked in any manner.
It is worth recalling that the only reason SOPA is not already law today is due to all of these procedural options. Now while TPA will have to go through the normal legislative process, it will be hard for a majority of Congress to vote against it given that many in Congress support fast tracking trade agreements as a general matter. Again, keeping what is actually being proposed in TPP a secret helps avoid having a debate during the TPA renewal step.
Here is how the public can avoid this future. Public Knowledge believes the public has a right to know what their government is advocating in the international trade agreement arena when it comes to the future of the Internet. It is worth noting that there are two types of TPP. One is a finalized TPP that every country has signed off on and the other is each individual country’s wish list. Therefore, the USTR should disclose its wish list for the Internet so that it is clear what the government is advocating on behalf of the public. Once that information is made available, then Americans can voice their opinion to their government and the USTR can change its advocacy where appropriate based on public input. Such a process would ensure that the USTR wish list for the TPP is in fact reflective of the American people.
A functional democracy is dependent on an informed citizenry and so far the American democracy has made very clear where it stands when presented with choices on Internet policy. The only feasible way for SOPA supporters to bypass the public is to keep them uninformed through secrecy and to stifle opportunities for public input.
However, this is still a democracy and they can only do this if the public does not voice its opposition to the process. Each day this process continues is another day the hard fought victory against SOPA could have been for nothing.
If you disagree with what is going on with the TPP, please take a moment to sign our petition.