A group of 29 technology companies has urged the U.S. Congress to reject a proposal to give President Barack Obama's administration broad authority to negotiate a controversial trade agreement with countries in the Pacific region.
The Obama administration shouldn't have so-called fast-track negotiating authority in the Trans-Pacific Partnership because of expansive copyright enforcement proposals in the draft trade agreement, the tech firms said in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Leaked copies of secretly negotiated TPP documents show the Office of U.S. Trade Representative proposing provisions that "would bind treaty signatories to inflexible digital regulations that undermine free speech," said the letter, signed by Reddit, BoingBoing, Cheezburger and other Web-based firms.
A representative of the USTR didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Critics of the TPP have raised concerns that leaked documents about the discussions show the U.S. pushing for increased damages for copyright infringement and extending the length of copyright protection, among other intellectual-property provisions.
"It is virtually certain that such proposals would face serious scrutiny if proposed at the domestic level or via a more transparent process," the tech companies wrote. "Anticipated elements such as harsher criminal penalties for minor, non-commercial copyright infringements, a 'take-down and ask questions later' approach to pages and content alleged to breach copyright, and the possibility of Internet providers having to disclose personal information to authorities without safeguards for privacy will chill innovation and significantly restrict users' freedoms online."
Former Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat recently appointed U.S. ambassador to China, and Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, have called for the Obama administration to receive fast-track negotiating authority for the TPP. Fast-track authority would allow the administration to negotiate the TPP, while taking away Congress' authority to amend or filibuster the deal when voting whether to accept it.
Wyden replaced Baucus as Finance Committee chairman in the Senate.
Several lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, have voiced opposition to fast-track authority.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is [email protected]