The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade agreement that is currently being negotiated on behalf of United States citizens by Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Barbara Weisel. There are currently nine countries involved in the negotiations; an invitation was extended to Mexico and Canada in summer 2012. The TPP includes a section on intellectual property (IP) law and enforcement that could affect privacy, free speech and even the application of fair use online. It is being negotiated entirely in secret and could affect copyright law in all eleven participating countries should they ratify this agreement.

Concerns over the process, as well as the potential outcome, of this trade agreement have been expressed at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Ars Technica, and Techdirt.  Many concerns about the TPP have to do with the perception that this is yet another attempt to create wide-reaching policies in order to protect the intellectual property of private companies (one of the major issues with the failed SOPA and PIPA proposed bills in Congress).

Another common complaint is about the high level of secrecy under which the negotiations are being held. So far there has been no official release of any text of the TPP draft agreement, although a copy of the U.S. proposed IP chapter was leaked in February 2011. On August 3, 2012, the proposed text of the Exceptions and Limitations section of the IP chapter of TPP was leaked, as well.

Members of Congress, who have jurisdiction over all international trade agreements, have repeatedly requested access to the text of the TPP . So far they have been continuously denied. U.S. House Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose constituency includes San Diego, requested permission to sit in on the round of negotiations that was held there in July 2012, but he was also denied.

Although Mexico and Canada were both invited to join the TPP agreement, they were required to sign on without seeing the agreement first and without having the option to negotiate any already agreed upon portions. Additionally, a 90 day probationary period kept both countries from participating in the last two rounds of negotiations which were held in June and September 2012. Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and expert on Canadian copyright law, has expressed concern that if Canada signs on to the TPP, the newly updated Canadian copyright law would have to be drastically rewritten.

The public is also being locked out of the TPP negotiation process. On September 9, 2012, at the most recent round of negotiations held in Leesburg, Virginia, the public was invited to speak with negotiators and ask questions. Unfortunately, the public groups were not given access to the text on which they were supposed to provide feedback. According to EFF and Techdirt, the negotiators also refused to respond to questions based upon the leaked texts, which are the only versions available to the public.

If ratified, the terms of the TPP could require Congress to change U.S. law, including copyright law. The American public should have the opportunity to give input on any changes to U.S. law. These secret negotiations continue to block public discourse and may cause irreparable harm to the individual use of the Internet.

For a more complete look at the TPP itself, take a look at Public Knowledge’s TPP Info page and EFF’s TPP page. If you would like to express concern about the lack of transparency involved in the TPP negotiations, you can go to the EFF’s Take Action page, or you can sign the petition at Stop the Trap.