Don Quijones: How the Trade in Services Agreement Lets Big Brother Go Global

By Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain, and editor at Wolf Street, where this article was originally published

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 and here). 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 until at 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.” By Don Quijones

In Spain, the Orwellian-titled “Law for Citizen Security,” or more aptly “Gag Law,” is opposed by 80% of the people, but no problem. Read…  Spain Takes a Giant Step Backward, Towards Its Dark Past

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  1. sd

    It feels so…inevitable. The fascists have won. And the end result will likely be the same, Mussolini and his mistress once again swinging in the air. And in between the now and the then, rivers of bloodshed all in the name of profit.

    A vast wasteland lies ahead in the future and I don’t see anyway around the inevitable misery it holds.

    1. James

      The question now is will the fascists’ technological edge allow them to escape their historically typical fate? They are certainly betting on it, and for now at least, the odds seem to be stacked in their favor. But history often turns on innocuous little events, so they probably shouldn’t rest too easy just yet. And as the great and wise Shrub recently reminded us: “In the end we’re all dead,” anyway, so maybe it’s best that we just live our lives accordingly. Even in times of great upheaval and misery there are a lucky few, not necessarily rich or powerful, who manage to somehow stay out of the way of the carnage. Probably as good as it gets these days.

      1. I.G.I.

        Back in the 1930s fascism also had the technological edge, and, similar to our times, felt morally superior and messianic…

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          I’m actually hopeful, I work with advanced technical teams that are building the technological escape route. End-to-end private communications channels inspired by Snowden; internets that divide all content into “shards” so no data sits on any one server in any one jurisdiction where it can be Big Brothered. And the icing on the cake, a financial system that operates on the above where private citizens are transacting, in privacy. They spent hundreds of millions trying to squash movie sharing, how did that work out? They finally figured out they’d have to put a fence around Oklahoma and put everyone (and their kids) inside.
          Once the user experience gets dead easy (it’s getting there) we will watch the power of the global corporo-fascists melt away like the snows of yesteryear. “But but but they will stop it!”, mm-hmm, that’s why file sharing is currently 30% of ALL internet traffic…the REAL internet is coming, yes there will still be the version where you only get to see the content the State Department and Comcast want you to see. The CIA says N. Korea did the Sony hack, legendary experts like Bruce Schneier say you can’t draw that conclusion, um let’s see whom should I believe? France and Germany and Canada better pay attention because they’re next if they post something the USSA doesn’t like…outage time.
          Help is on the way, our kids will be free.

          1. TedWa

            Thanks for that post, I had hoped things were going on in the background to short circuit these dead-ends (for us). Crypto-currency also gives me some hope of evolution beyond financial activity being controlled by a century old central reserve bank that can’t evolve beyond their role as bankster backers..

        2. digi_owl

          Meh. WW2 was “our” fascists vs “their” fascists. And Ukraine right now is a replay of sorts.

          The line between capitalism and fascism is thin at best.

    2. digi_owl

      In a sense the fascists always win. This because they have less of a problem with closing ranks and employing blunt force to further their goals.

  2. Demeter

    Democracy today might be the equivalent of communism in the ’50’s: secretive, living in the cracks, nod, nod wink wink….mimeographed, practically unreadable pamphlets, earnest street corner talkers, banned public figures, blacklists.

  3. nat scientist

    To serve you, the individual, better to the corporations, that have no right of privacy or expectation of fair play grounded in morality expressed as ethics and devoid in a bloodless, immortal collection of contracts. All the deflationary efforts of efficiency distilled from the workers and the humans delivering productivity gains are sequestered from human distribution for some later date in the great trickle down of Reagan’s lie. The TPA allows this productivity melt up to go global and lose local accountability in common law based in local and sovereign court.
    Is the formula for soylent green confidential as well?
    It may well be placed on some schedule for human protection in an abundance of caution, lest the pain of personal and human time-deprivation may be relieved without other,wise corporate servicing.

  4. TedWa

    Buffett was right. Thanks to Obama, the elites have won the so called “class warfare” and seek to take their spoils across the world with Obama cheer leading. Can’t we impeach him? Indict him? (Been asking that for years). He is by far the worst president ever since his only goal seems to be selling out this democracy to kleptocratic rule.

    1. Vatch

      Worst President ever? Oh, I think Obama deserves to share that honor with his immediate predecessor George Dubya Bush. After all, the primary reason Obama is so bad is that he is continuing most of Dubya’s policies. They may also deserve to share the dubious honor with some of the 19th century Presidents from the 1840s and 1850s, although the context is completely different. I’ll leave this to experts in the history of that period to judge who the really bad ones were.

      1. TedWa

        Even Dubya wanted strings attached to the bailouts, Obama said no way. That right there is usurping of justice and he has done it with every criminal in government (CIA, torture and on and on) and outside of government (banksters, large corporations, picking winners and losers) that he considers to be among the elite and indispensable. He gets away with things the republicans could only dream and drool about in the past, and he’s able to do it because he’s led everyone to believe he’s a Democrat when he obviously isn’t and never was. I don’t know of any President in the past that was so aggressively willing to sell out this Republic and the people.

  5. diptherio

    That Kennedy speech, or at least a snippet of it, is actually quite well known in certain circles. Pretty much any “documentary” on the Illuminati will include it, often right at the beginning:

    The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. There is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.

    But listen to the whole speech…right before the above quoted bit, he literally says we need more “official secrecy.” The quote that everybody loves to use is taken completely out of context. In context, Kennedy, in typical politician fashion, is doing a “yeah, but” routine. Secrecy is bad…but… As he puts it a little later in the speech:

    If the press is awaiting a declaration of war before it imposes the self-discipline of combat conditions, then I can only say that no war ever posed a greater threat to our security.

    That threat being the spread of communism. In fact, if you replace every instance of “communist” with “terrorist” in that speech, it could easily have been delivered more recently by GWB or our very own BHO. Some things never change…

    JFK was a war-monger. After reading all about his non-response to the 60s iteration of #BlackLivesMatter (just like BHO today), it really comes as no surprise. The initials change, but the game remains the same.

  6. kevinearick

    In case you didn’t know, the critters are herding fish with sonar and fishing regulation, backfilling with replication. That should work out well. Go Navy.

    All it would take to disrupt communications is an old boy scout radio telegraph.

    The more they print to sustain the dc illusion of control, the more gravity you have to fell. Peer pressure generates income inequality, until threshold, surprise.

    Look around. How many people do you see capable of doing anything other than efficiently discharge natural resources, on the wrong side of the curve?

    You might want to learn something about motor generators. The planet is not as stupid as commonly assumed.

    1. kevinearick

      “the evidence shows that real wages are more likely to increase during periods of deflation than periods of monetary inflation …The high-tech boom sucked in all the liquidity at the expense of other sectors of the economy. …But the rise is not equal. Many lose and some gain.”…like rocket science…

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