First Report From Inside Germany's New TAFTA/TTIP Reading Room Reveals Text's Dirty Secret

from the 24-seconds-a-page dept

Last week we wrote about the only place that German politicians are currently allowed to view the latest texts of TAFTA/TTIP: a tiny room, guarded at all times, and involving all kinds of humiliating restrictions for visitors. Katja Kipping was one of the first to enter, and she has written up her experiences for lesser mortals like you and me, who are not permitted to besmirch this sacred place with our unworthy presence. Even though she is -- of course -- forbidden from speaking about what she read there, a translation of her account, made by War on Want, nonetheless contains some interesting new details:
Once I'd registered, I was sent the instructions on how to use the room. The first thing that I noticed was that the terms and conditions had already been the subject of negotiations between the European Commission and the USA. Get your head round that: TTIP isn't even signed yet, and already individual countries have lost the right to decide who gets to read the texts, and on what terms.
Here's how the actual visit went:
A guard took me in through security and asked me to lock away my jacket and my bag. He checked that I wasn't taking any camera or mobile phone into the reading room, and then knocked on a door. The heightened level of secrecy made me all the more excited as to what I was going to find, but the room itself was nothing special. There were eight computer work stations, and I was only allowed to sit at the one designated for me. A friendly woman sat in the room. She got me to sign the visitor rules -- if you don't sign, you don’t get in, so I signed. There was a thermos of coffee and a plate of biscuits in the corner. Yet no amount of caffeine or blood sugar would have made it possible to get through the 300 or so pages of text in the two hours I had available to me.
Even though this reading room for German politicians has finally been opened -- two and a half years after the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations began -- numerous obstacles are placed in their way to make that opportunity as inconvenient as possible. First, the texts are only available in English -- imagine if US politicians were only allowed to read the French version of the negotiating texts. Moreover, the German visitors to the room are completely on their own: they cannot take even security-cleared specialists with them in order to decode the highly-abstruse wording of the documents. Finally, as Kipping notes above, she had just two hours to get through 300 pages -- roughly 24 seconds per page.

Even racing through the pages made available to her, Kipping says that she was unable to find anything that allayed her concerns about the proposed agreement. And despite the blanket prohibition on giving things away, she does reveal one dirty secret about the TAFTA/TTIP texts:

the documents are simply crawling with typos. The word 'and' is regularly written 'andd' and 'the' often appears as 'teh'. Either the negotiators are really shoddy workers or this is one of those famous security measures we've heard about.
She is doubtless right that these errors are fairly unsubtle attempts to create unique copies so that any leaks can be traced back to their source, since visitors to the reading room are directed to a particular computer when reading the text. And she is also correct in her conclusion:
Anyone who was going into these negotiations to enhance environmental protection, consumer protection and labour standards would have nothing to fear from transparency. Anyone who's engaged in selling out democracy, on the other hand, is obviously going to want to avoid public scrutiny. If [Germany's Minister for Economic Affairs] Sigmar Gabriel and the negotiators are really so convinced of the benefits of TTIP, why don't they just make the text available to everyone online?
It will be interesting to see what other snippets of information escape from the little room as the negotiations proceed, and as more German politicians visit it -- and whether they, too, still encounter texts that are crawling with highly-suspicious typos.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 2:23am

    Rhetorical questions, german politician style

    Anyone who was going into these negotiations to enhance environmental protection, consumer protection and labour standards would have nothing to fear from transparency. Anyone who's engaged in selling out democracy, on the other hand, is obviously going to want to avoid public scrutiny. If [Germany's Minister for Economic Affairs] Sigmar Gabriel and the negotiators are really so convinced of the benefits of TTIP, why don't they just make the text available to everyone online?

    If it has a high likelihood of affecting you, and you're not allowed to see it before it comes into affect... yeah, odds are good it's because it's not going to help you. Other than giving medicine to kids(and if those involved see the public like that, there's yet another reason they're not suitable for their positions and authority) you don't need to trick someone into accepting something clearly beneficial to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 10 Feb 2016 @ 6:02am

      Re: Rhetorical questions, german politician style

      you don't need to trick someone into accepting something clearly beneficial to them.

      I am not convinced of that.

      However, things like "age of consent" and "democracy" are there with all their consequences, including some bad ones, because the alternatives are worse and lead provably to systematic abuse of power.

      The controlling mechanism of democracy, for better or worse, is scrutiny by the masses. Whether or not they are best-suited for that, people in a democracy are responsible for the choices governing them, and the constitutions that their representatives are sworn to heed are quite explicit in that respect.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wyrm (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:42am

        Re: Re: Rhetorical questions, german politician style

        "The controlling mechanism of democracy, for better or worse, is scrutiny by the masses"
        True enough.
        Now explain to me why are the "masses" not allowed to "scrutiny"?
        How can we pretend we're a democracy when the only point that actually makes a democracy had been removed?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Seegras (profile), 11 Feb 2016 @ 1:47am

          Re: Re: Re: Rhetorical questions, german politician style

          I'll rephrase that, for democracies:

          Why is the "sovereign" not allowed to "scrutiny"?

          And now it does sound like the conspiracy it is.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Wendy Cockcroft, 11 Feb 2016 @ 2:31am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Rhetorical questions, german politician style

            We're a hegemony.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegemony

            All that voting and stuff provides the illusion of democracy but since most people don't engage in the democratic system, "the masses" have little say in the decisions being made for them unless a pressure group campaign gains momentum.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 4:46am

    OR, you could just contact your represnetatives and tell them that a vote in favor of TTIP and TISA are votes they will lose.

    There is nothing a politician looks more for than power, as that power offers extra opportunities for choices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Peter CM (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 12:10pm

      Re: Really?

      I can't speak for European politicians, but on this side of the Atlantic there is nothing a politician (or staffer) looks more for than revolving-door payoffs ... and the corporations behind TPP, TTIP, TISA and their ilk have really deep pockets.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 5:13am

    Nah, Enlgish fo mots yovropians is moer liek spanis fo US reresentatives.

    When that is said, the security through obscurity used in this case should be enough for politicians to see the ghost of ACTA reappearing. Keep in mind that a part of why many politicians voted no to ACTA was the secrecy of questionable legality surrounding it (most of the EU parliament condemned that part of ACTA). TAFTA/TTIP basically seems like a twin of ACTA on that account and it is probably even more aggrevating for politicians to go through this humiliation and then turn around and praise it. Talk about being a sellout!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 1:29pm

      Re:

      What I can't figure out is: TAFTA/TTIP has been so horribly handled that it is *almost* doomed to failure.

      So: what on earth is it supposed to be distracting us from? What under the table deal is going on that we don't know about? I'm sure there must be one, or so much time and energy wouldn't be being spent on distracting us with a process that has known flaws and has almost been designed to fail beneath the weight of controversy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Alien Rebel (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 2:04pm

        Re: Re:

        I heard that there will no longer be any requirement to list ingredients in Soylent Green.

        --

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Peter CM (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 5:47pm

        Re: Re: What is the handling of TTIP supposed to be distracting us from?

        The handling of TTIP isn't so much supposed to be distracting us from anything as attempting to hide the fact that TTIP (and TISA and TTP) will accelerate the international race to the bottom in labor, environmental, public health, and social welfare standards, hobble governments' ability to engage in meaningful, beneficial regulation, and generally establish untrammeled, unanswerable supranational corporate sovereignty.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 6:37pm

        Re: Re:

        I think it could be as simple as they just plain screwed it up. But they are willing to keep trying as many times as it takes to get these pro-corporate agreements passed. They will never get tired of the fight because they have billions of dollars at stake. The question is, will the public get tired of it?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 5:30am

    This makes me sick

    I am really sickened at the thought that government is being performed in secret. After all, isn't it the government that tells us if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 6:10am

    And teh

    If one were to get hold of the text and run it through a spell checker it would thwart their gotcha security?

    Hmmmm, and only 300 pages. I would have thought them much more long winded than that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 7:45am

      Re: And teh

      ...and only 300 pages. I would have thought them much more long winded than that...

      Single spaced? Font sized? You can get a lot of words on a page with 8 point font; in my area legal contracts have to be 10 point minimum for acceptance.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 10 Feb 2016 @ 9:45am

        Re: Re: And teh

        That's just the decoy (there is a reason nobody is allowed to record the text in any manner). The text that will be voted on is a different one.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 12:49pm

          Re: Re: Re: And teh

          When it comes to legal questions, the pre-legislative work is often as valuable for creating jurisprudence as the legislation since it speaks to the intent of the legislation. On those grounds, it would be reasonable to get access to negotiation notes and discussion on wordings in an international treaty before you sign your soul away.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:10am

      Re: And teh

      If they're smart, they're also slipping in some changes that would bypass a spell checker while appearing as innocent spelling errors... there/their/they're, to/too/two, lose/loose, etc.

      throwing in the andd and teh here and there would just make everything appear to be legitimately low-quality so someone would ignore the more nefarious (and key) misspellings for what they are.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 6:52am

    I feel that this "friendly woman" is most likely some kind of boss character and will feature largely later on as the plot develops...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:02am

    TAFTA/TTIP, so bad you may be shot just for reading it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Nemesh, 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:05am

    Convincing proof...

    This is proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that deep and broad reform is needed in the US political system. The political revolution is underway...we WILL elect Bernie Sanders as our next President! But it doesn't end with him! We need to "clean House" (and Senate!) and rid our government of those who serve the interests of the corporations and the rich! We need to reform our campaign finance system to rid the influence of them from OUR democracy! And we need to make lobbying COMPLETELY illegal! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE ALL need to STAND TOGETHER and retake our democracy from the forces that have been undermining our nation!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:15am

      Re: Convincing proof...

      As much as I admire your stance - I'm not sure Bernie Sanders is really part of the solution :/

      In fact, I'm not sure ANY of the presidential candidates in this upcoming election are going to make a difference, as the problem is primarily with congress.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rich, 10 Feb 2016 @ 9:27am

      Re: Convincing proof...

      I don't think any of the clowns running for president are part of the solution, nor do they want to be.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 6:40pm

      Re: Convincing proof...

      we WILL elect Bernie Sanders as our next President!

      What makes you so sure?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Seegras (profile), 11 Feb 2016 @ 1:56am

        Re: Re: Convincing proof...

        You elected Obama. The first time, because you thought he would fix things.

        But the second time AFTER his betrayal.

        What makes you think people still want to elect somebody to "fix things"? Because, apparently, now they elect the ones that fight whistleblowers, have people assassinated with drones, snoop on everyone and generally behave like fascist assholes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 8:44am

    I'm surprised the "Visitor Rules" didn't include a non-disparagement clause.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Feb 2016 @ 11:42am

    Time for someone who has a photographic memory to go in there but I guess these people will be rejected for being a recording device.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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