The ugly ramifications of the Trade in Services Act (TiSA)
Much has been written, at least in the alternative media, about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two multilateral trade treaties being negotiated between the representatives of dozens of national governments and armies of corporate lawyers and lobbyists (on which you can read more here, here andhere). However, much less is known about the decidedly more secretive Trade in Services Act (TiSA), which involves more countries than either of the other two.
At least until now, that is. Thanks to a leaked document jointly published by the Associated Whistleblowing Press and Filtrala, the potential ramifications of the treaty being hashed out behind hermetically sealed doors in Geneva are finally seeping out into the public arena.
If signed, the treaty would affect all services ranging from electronic transactions and data flow, to veterinary and architecture services. It would almost certainly open the floodgates to the final wave of privatization of public services, including the provision of healthcare, education and water. Meanwhile, already privatized companies would be prevented from a re-transfer to the public sector by a so-called barring “ratchet clause” – even if the privatization failed.
More worrisome still, the proposal stipulates that no participating state can stop the use, storage and exchange of personal data relating to their territorial base. Here’s more from Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of Public Services International (PSI):
The leaked documents confirm our worst fears that TiSA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth (…) Negotiation of unrestricted data movement, internet neutrality and how electronic signatures can be used strike at the heart of individuals’ rights. Governments must come clean about what they are negotiating in these secret trade deals.
Fat chance of that, especially in light of the fact that the text is designed to be almost impossible to repeal, and is to be “considered confidential” for five years after being signed. What that effectively means is that the U.S. approach to data protection (read: virtually non-existent) could very soon become the norm across 50 countries spanning the breadth and depth of the industrial world.
Big Brother Goes Global
The main players in the top-secret negotiations are the United States and all 28 members of the European Union. However, the broad scope of the treaty also includes Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey. Combined they represent almost 70 percent of all trade in services worldwide.
An explicit goal of the TiSA negotiations is to overcome the exceptions in GATS that protect certain non-tariff trade barriers, such as data protection. For example, the draft Financial Services Annex of TiSA, published by Wikileaks in June 2014, would allow financial institutions, such as banks, the free transfer of data, including personal data, from one country to another. As Ralf Bendrath, a senior policy advisor to the MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, writes in State Watch, this would constitute a radical carve-out from current European data protection rules:
The transfer and analysis of financial data from EU to US authorities for the US “Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme” (TFTP) has already shaken EU-US relations in the past and led the European Parliament to veto a first TFTP agreement in 2010. With the draft text of the TiSA leak, all floodgates would be opened.
The weakening of EU data protection rules through TiSA goes further than “only” the financial sector. According to sources close to the negotiations, a draft of the TiSA “Electronic Commerce and Telecommunications Services Annex” contains provisions that would ban any restrictions on cross-border information flows and localization requirements for ICT service providers. A provision proposed by US negotiators would rule out any conditions for the transfer of personal data to third countries that are currently in place in EU data protection law.
Given Edward Snowden’s startling revelations of the scale and scope of NSA snooping on European citizens, companies and political leaders – much of it facilitated by its junior surveillance partner, the UK’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – the prospect of completely unhindered cross-border information and data flows should set off alarm bells across the old continent. Unfortunately that isn’t the case, for the simple reason that most people are blissfully unaware of it, thanks in large part to the near-complete absence of mainstream coverage and public debate on the issue.
The End of Privacy As We Know It?
As for the EU, divining its real intentions concerning data protection is an almost impossible task. Publicly it is in favor of strengthening data protections. There have even been proposals to introduce changes to the routing of internet data packets, so that they take a certain path and remain within the EU. In the European Parliament an amendment was tabled by the Green Party to encrypt all Internet traffic from end to end and was adopted as part of a compromise on the committee vote in February.
As regards national security, the Council of Europe ministers responsible for media and information society stated in November 2013 that:
Any data collection or surveillance for the purpose of protection of national security must be done in compliance with existing human rights and rule of law requirements, including Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Given the growing technological capabilities for electronic mass surveillance and the resulting concerns, we emphasise that there must be adequate and effective guarantees against abuse which may undermine or even destroy democracy.
In private, however, EU trade negotiators – that is, the people with real power – are coming under intense U.S. pressure to sign away virtually all European data protection rights. As Bendrath notes, U.S. lobbying efforts, through groups such as the Orwellian-named “Coalition for Privacy and Free Trade”, have been pushing for “interoperability” between European and American rules on both sides of the Atlantic. That basically means a mutual recognition on the respective rules on both sides of the Atlantic. The only catch: in the United States there are currently no comprehensive data protection laws in place.
If the U.S. negotiators get their way – and let’s face it, when it comes to its dealings with its so-called “allies,” Washington invariably does – multinational corporations will have carte blanche to pry into just about every facet of the working and personal lives of the inhabitants of roughly a quarter of the world’s 200-or-so nations. Such a prospect should worry us all: exploitation of big data serves today to shape our consumption; it can reveal our whereabouts at all times, our conduct, preferences, feelings or even our most intimate thoughts. If TiSA is signed in its current form – and we will not know what that form is untilat least five years down the line – that data will be freely bought and sold on the open market place without our knowledge; companies and governments will be able to store it for as long as they desire and use it for just about any purpose.
Perhaps the most perverse irony is that while the corporations and their servants in our elected (or in the case of the EU, unelected) governments seek to turn our lives into a vast open book of actionable or monetizable data, their own actions are increasingly being conducted behind an impenetrable blanket of darkness and secrecy. And as John F Kennedy once said during a little known speech on the grave threat posed by the Soviet Union, “the very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society.”