Daniel Cooper Bermudez for Popular Resistance – Digital rights are under threat in the United States and abroad as corporations and governments work together to infringe upon people’s privacy and limit essential civil and political rights such as freedom and equality in access to information. From the FCC’s dismantling of Net Neutrality to the inclusion of digital trade provisions in TPP that industry leaders want in NAFTA, the movement has been ready to fight back and has counter-proposals to guarantee that the internet remains free and open, a center for the global organizing required to foster a world fighting back climate change and human rights violations.
The new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chariman Ajit Pai has begun the attack against net neutrality rules that limit the power of internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing users’ connections to online content. Free Press, an advocacy organization that fights for your right to connect and communicate, warns us that:
Without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to devise new schemes to charge users more for access and services, making it harder for us to communicate online — and easier for companies to censor our speech. The Internet could come to resemble cable TV, where gatekeepers exert control over where you go and what you see.
Without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to block content and speech they don’t like, reject apps that compete with their own offerings, and prioritize Web traffic (reserving the fastest loading speeds for the highest bidders and sticking everyone else with the slowest).
Net Neutrality is essential for our ability to learn, our ability to have freer access to information and multiple perspectives that may not coincide with the interests of the people who have ownership over the media infrastructure. Net Neutrality guarantees are ability to use the internet as a platform for our organizing in an era in which being interconnected within and beyond our communities is essential to our ability to protect the planet and our people who inhabit it.
The amount of power that the major telecommunications monopolies have will only increase as their ability to accumulate wealth by extortioning people into paying money to have bettter access to web traffic. This will inevitably augment their regional and global power as digital trade is included on the agenda for the next major secretive trade deals.
Congress and Corporations are getting ready for Digital Trade
A day after FCC Chairman Pai’s announcement, Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) have been joined by about 20 members from both parties to launch a bipartisan Digital Trade Caucus which in theory seeks to promote a “free and open Internet.”
“Knowing that digital trade is accounting for a larger and larger portion of our economy, and trade agreements now have to deal with both protectionist measures happening around the world and restrictions that are being put on data localization, we just thought it was imperative and a good time for making sure the United States can continue to have our data flow across the border freely,” Paulsen told POLITICO.
The Information Technology Industry Council, which has advocating against Net Neutrality regulations, welcomed the congressiongal initiative while also planning to work closely with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to craft the internet’s future. With regulations of the digital environment in a nascent stage, we are aware of the grave repercussions that corporate control can keep having on people’s ability to communicate and organize in a free environment. We cannot
Digital trade is expected to be amongst the major modifications of the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations between the United States, Canada, and Mexico as it is not addressed in the original agreement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has denounced that the current administration seeks to keep the threatening digital trade provisions of the TPP in an agreement between the North American countries.
The People’s Trade, The People’s Internet
The people want popular participation in deciding the future of the internet and the future of trade. The principles of respect for human rights and dignity must be at the forefront of the agenda. We were prepared to save the internet when we first pressured the FCC into adopting Net Neutrality regulations, and we are even more prepared today to create the digital worlds that will lead us to liberation and creativity.
In February 2016, a group of expert stakeholders representing Internet users, consumers, innovative businesses, cultural institutions and scholars wrote the Brussels Declaration on Trade and the Internet in which they state that “any international rule-making process that affects the online and digital environment should adhere to human rights and good governance obligations to actively disseminate information, promote public participation and provide access to justice in governmental decision-making.” They conclude the declaration with concrete recommendations for a more transparent and participatory digital trade process.
Similarly, EFF and OpenTheGovernment.org have come up with five simple steps to fix future trade agreements:
- Publish U.S. textual proposals on rules in ongoing international trade negotiations
- Publish consolidated texts after each round of ongoing negotiations
- Appoint a “transparency officer” who does not have structural conflicts of interest in promoting transparency at the agency
- Open up textual proposals to a notice and comment and public hearing process
- Make Trade Advisory Committees more broadly inclusive
The United States’s media and ISP infrastructure is already dominated by powerful corporations, we must resist the attack on Net Neutrality in order to defend our right to communicate and connect. Additionally, Mexico is the most dangerous country for journalists in Abya Yala (the Americas) and has few protections for the privacy of internet users from their telecommunications companies. If these corporations get their hands on international treaties such as NAFTA, the future of digital freedom and privacy will be further at risk. We cannot afford this to become our bleak reality, we need to be able to work together across communities and continents in order to protect the environment and act in solidarity with each other.
We demand that popular participation be central to any major governmental decisions on the digital environment and global trade. Our future depends on it.