Digital trade negotations

There are currently a number of trade negotiations that could impact on digital rights in the UK. These are particularly important because of Brexit

Key considerations

Trade agreements take precedence over most other forms of international law. They are usually highly enforceable and penalties for non-compliance are considerable and financial. For instance, companies or governments may be compensated for loss of trade.

In the field of digital rights, this makes them potentially very dangerous. Trade commitments affecting privacy and free expression can take precedence and undermine domestic protections.

In former trade agreements, the focus of controversy has tended to be on the impacts of intellectual property requirements impacting free expression, for instance by making it hard to exercise copyright exceptions, or by demanding enforcement measures that are likely to curtail legitimate speech. These issues are likely to resurface in many of the discussions.

The focus is now additionally on data protection rights and the impacts of agreements to secure 'data flows'. Trade agreements are now wish to promote the idea of digital trade, which means ensuring that data including personal data can be legally transferred between jurisdictions. This may override or undermine data protection rights.

UK consultations

The UK ran consultations on several potential free trade agremeents in 2018, including a potential Free Trade Agreement with the United States of America; and with Australia; and joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

ORG position

  • Democratic oversight and decision making must be protected by giving Parliament a central role and the final say over agreements.
  • Negotiations must be transparent, drafts must be published, and civil society must be able to participate.
  • Digital privacy must not be undermined in the name of protecting the "free flow of data".
  • Censorship must not be promoted through draconian or voluntary online IP enforcement commitments.