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Daily Dot: Three battles we face in 2013

Mon, 12/31/1973 - 16:48 -- Joel Milne

Article by Kevin Collier for the Daily Dot:

The battle over Internet rights has only just begun.

For all intents and purposes, the movement was created in January 2012, when millions of ordinary citizens saw, talked about, and complained to their representatives in Congress that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) could end the Web as they knew it. The newfound Internet rights campaign success was a "victory for democracy" in the U.S., and five months later, Europe experienced its own version.

As many things as Internet rights activists accomplished in 2012, as much as their movement grew and kept itself in the spotlight, there are three glaring issues—all of which got plenty of ink—that saw little, if any, real progress in 2012. It's unsurprising, perhaps, that the first two, unlike SOPA, aren't decided by directly elected officials, and the last one is mired in partisan bickering and legaleze. For that reason, these issues might be tougher fights than SOPA ever was.

1) The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The TPP is a trade agreement whose intellectual property standards could dictate the laws of the Internet for member countries. Its cousin, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), was defeated this summer, probably permanently, in Europe. That was the result of a massive number of protesters calling their representatives in the European Union and convincing their representatives to vote it down.

But in 2012, the TPP has only expanded its member base. It now includes Canada and Mexico—but still not Europe—while becoming more secretive than ever.

The TPP concerns Internet rights activists because a leaked draft showed it wants strict intellectual property standards to protect online copyright, which could translate into corporations having a big say blocking parts of the Internet they don't like. Since it's a trade agreement, it doesn't accept public opinion: It's negotiated entirely behind closed doors, by trade representatives from its member countries. The only input it accepts is from specially authorized groups, which can mean both corporate lobbyists and digital rights groups.

A the most recent meeting, the 15th of its kind, in Auckland, New Zealand in December, U.S. activists from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) learned, after they arrived that they had part of one day to make a presentation on negotiators' day off. Otherwise, they were barred from even being in the same proximity as the negotiators.

"At an intersessional TPP meeting in Beverly Hill earlier this year, they had the hotel cancel all the room reservations of all public stakeholders," the EFF's Maira Sutton told the Daily Dot from New Zealand at the time. "But this is the first time they've been banned from the venue entirely."

But that might not even be the lowlight of the year, as far as the TPP is concerned. The U.S.'s interests are represented by Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who, somehow, was awarded a "cyber-champion" award.

Date to watch for: March 4-13. Singapore is scheduled to host the 16th round of negotiations. There's no reason to think that one will be any more transparent, or to think negotiators will suddenly be even receptive to activists' concerns, before the 17th, and expectedly final round in October.

2) The United Nations' International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

The United States certainly seemed to be doing something right. In December, the ITU, which can grant itself the power to govern the Internet, held a 10-day meeting that considered whether it should adopt standards that would give itself a greater ability to govern the Internet. Of particular concern were the countries that pushed hardest for such a move—countries with terrible Internet freedom track records, most notably Russia and China.

In a rare instance when groups as disparate as Democrats, Republicans, all of Congress, the European Union, Google, and Anonymous all agreed, the U.S. staunchly opposed such a move, and it, along with a coalition of mostly Western countries, refused to sign the ITU's final treaty.

That's it, right? End of threat?

Not by a long shot, according to a source with intimate knowledge of the ITU talks. This could be the start of a decades-long battle for control of the Web. A number of nations did sign the treaty, and December might have just signaled the start of an enormous tug of war. Read more »

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