The Government Can Be Transparent About International Negotiations... If It's Unhappy With Them

from the tpp-vs.-wcit dept

We've been covering two big stories lately: the ongoing negotiations over the TPP agreement (Trans Pacific Partnership) as well the upcoming fight to change key internet governance issues via the UN's ITU (International Telecommunications Union) as part of WCIT (the World Conference on International Telecommunications). Of course, there's an interesting contrast about these two discussions. Both have been hit with accusations of government bureaucrats keeping things way, way too secret. The ITU has been notoriously secret, despite claims of opening up (which generally involve releasing redacted versions of documents which have already been widely leaked in un-redacted form much earlier). Then we have the USTR, claiming unprecedented transparency, even as the USTR seems to think that "transparency" means getting people to testify about a document they're not supposed to have seen.

Of course, part of the USTR's claims about "transparency" are that it has a variety of ITACs (Industry Trade Advisory Committees) who have more or less full access to the negotiating positions of the US -- which the public and Congress do not. That those ITACs are limited to just a few industries -- often the legacy industries seeking greater protectionism, and not the up and coming innovators who are more important for economic growth. Basically, these ITACs are locked up providing a clearly protectionist attitude towards copyright.

The TPP process has its own ITACs as well -- though, in that context, it means an "International Telecommunications Advisory Committee." More or less the same thing.

Except there's one major difference. Whereas the ITACs having to do with TPP have been quite secretive, the flipside is happening with the ITACs related to the WCIT fight. And it's the US driving the transparency. There are lots of reasons to be concerned by the ITU WCIT process, but the US government is making it easy for the public to participate:
Join me and make a difference. 303,000,000 Americans have just been offered access to the notoriously secret ITU WCIT documents. Just join ITAC, the State Department International Telecommunications Advisory Committee, and enjoy access. “It takes a simple email with a request to be placed on the ITAC listserv, based on some material interest in a given topic,” Paul Najarian of State writes. Simply send an email to join and you automatically have access to ITAC.
So, basically, anyone can join the ITAC concerning WCIT. That's quite different than with TPP, certainly. Oh, and then there's this bit of transparency, straight from the State Department. The following is an email from Terry Kramer, the US Ambassador and head of the US delegation dealing with WCIT:
First, we welcome all interested stakeholders to participate in our WCIT preparatory process and help the U.S. Government form positions in advance of the conference. We solicit this input and feedback through the United States International Telecommunications Advisory Committee (ITAC). I believe that the ITAC process is critically important in helping the U.S. Government convene the type of open, public, and necessary consultations from all stakeholders that helps strengthen our positions in advance of the WCIT. The ITAC has advised the Department of State on U.S. participation in international telecommunications treaty organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union for decades and has, accordingly, been critical in the preparation of prior U.S. positions for meetings of international treaty organizations, developing and coordinating proposed contributions to international meetings and submitting them to the Department of State for consideration. For the WCIT, the ITAC will continue to serve this critical role. Therefore, we welcome any person and any and all organizations, whether corporate or non-profit, to participate in the ITAC if they would like to assist with the WCIT preparatory process.

Second, all WCIT preparatory documents – including revisions of the TD-62 compilations of Member States proposals, the final report of the Council Working Group, and Member State proposals – have been and will continue to be made available to interested ITAC member. It is imperative that we ensure full consideration of a WCIT proposal’s impact on economic growth, the Internet’s openness, and the world at large and this is best done through the adoption of open and transparent processes that allow for wide consultation. Thus, we will continue to share these WCIT documents with stakeholder so that they can provide more informed views and help us develop positions that reflect the input of the diverse range of interests in the United States.

Starting this week, I will proactively communicate our positions on participation and document availability to underscore the US Government’s commitment to transparency.
Okay, just to translate, if that's a bit dry: when it comes to WCIT, where the US finds itself on the defensive, suddenly it's a lover of openness and transparency. The State Department readily invites anyone to join an ITAC and promises to quickly reveal all relevant documents it receives. Furthermore, it knows that sharing the documents will lead to "more informed views."

In other words, all of the things that the USTR refuses to do with TPP -- and which it claims are effectively impossible in an international agreement. Of course, the reality seems to suggest that when the US is in control (as with TPP), then it seeks to hoard and limit info, preferring secrecy to openness and transparency. Yet, when it's not, as with the ITU process, suddenly government officials are magically in love with openness and transparency. In those cases, it's willing to let anyone join an ITAC and is willing to share whatever documents it can provide.

All of this really highlights the dishonesty of the USTR in all of this. While, yes, the negotiation process between these two issues are somewhat different, there's no reason that the USTR can't take after the State Department in terms of transparency concerning an international negotiation. It just chooses not to do so, because then experts and the public might stand up and point out why the TPP is dangerous.
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Filed Under: copyright, international agreements, internet governance, itu, tpp, transparency

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2012 @ 2:55am

    Glasnost NOW!

    I mean if the Soviets could do it in the eighties...

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