New TISA leak: secret trade deal threatens privacy rights

  • December 19, 2014

Surveillance & Security

A new leak exposes US attempts to boost mega-corporations by undermining privacy rights and internet freedoms through the top-secret TISA trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Associated Whistleblowing Press published a new leak revealing US attempts to undermine privacy rights, net neutrality and internet freedoms through top-secret negotiations over the little-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Even a quick glance at the leaked document is already extremely revealing. At the top of its front page, in capital letters, the word CONFIDENTIAL is highlighted — and further down the full extent of the treaty’s secret nature is revealed: “Declassify on five years from entry into force of the TISA agreement.”

A full reading and understanding of the text, however, not only explains these harsh terms, but makes them necessary. Because what government would tell its citizens, explicitly, that they are opening the door for mega-corporations to take control of their public services? What company would clearly inform its customers that their private data will be handed over to foreign entities without any restrictions? In the case of TISA, when the players involved include the US, the EU and more than twenty other countries — together making up almost 70% of the world services market — the answers are painfully obvious.

As Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (a global federation of unions that represents over 200 million workers, and one of the most active voices against TISA) puts it: “the leaked documents confirm our worst fears: that TISA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth.” These interests, of course, are directly opposed to those of most of the world population.

Where did TISA come from?

To understand the nature of the treaty, we have to go back to 2001, when the Doha rounds of the World Trade Organization intended to tear down all barriers and limitations to global commerce. After the failure of these negotiations and other similar treaties — such as ALCA — the global powers began the process of signing bilateral and multilateral treaties to achieve their goals. The objective is always the same: to open up all possible services to international competition on a minimally regulated market.

The global financial crisis of 2008, however, forced a drastic change of plans, and there were even a couple of important voices that timidly spoke out against the deregulatory trend they believed had sparked the crisis. At this point, the big fish behind this trend of market liberalization — the United States, Canada, the European Union and Switzerland — conceded, if only for a while.

But now that the smoke has cleared these same countries and the powerful business lobbies behind them — who actually call themselves ‘Really Good Friends of Services’ and who claim that there is no connection between market deregulation and the global financial crisis — are planning to bypass public concerns through secrecy and completely liberalize up to 70% of all services worldwide, even those related to our personal privacy.

“The end of privacy as we know it”

All of this is why, for now, the little information we have about TISA has come to us through a set of carefully leaked documents. The first time the public caught a glimpse of what was happening between negotiators in Geneva was thanks to Wikileaks, who published a chapter on finance last June, revealing that these global powers were well on their way to achieve their plans for further deregulation by the time public concern had diminished.

The new documents — technically referred to as the United States’ Proposal of New Provisions Applicable to All Services and the Annex of Professional Services — shed a whole new light on the scope of the treaty: legal services, private education, veterinary care, taxation services and even bookkeeping are all on the table, as well as technical services such as internet providers, electronic transactions, digital signatures and Big Data flow.

This last point, relating to the movement of information, is particularly serious. Article X.4 states that “no party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, accessing, processing or storing information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in conduct of the service supplier’s business.” According to lawyer Josep Jover, an expert in intellectual property, this spells “the end of privacy as we know it,” as “the consumer becomes fuel for the services provider.”

On this issue, Rosa Pavanelli is once again crystal clear: “Negotiation of unrestricted data movement, internet neutrality and how electronic signatures can be used strike at the heart of individual rights … Negotiating provisions that potentially circumvent privacy laws in the interests of corporate profits is a scandal. The TISA negotiators have now lost the confidence of the public and can only regain it with the immediate release of all documents.”

Now that we know that this is probably just wishful thinking, we can only hope that the leaks keep on coming — and the public resistance to this highly secretive trade deal keeps on growing.

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