Canadians need to see the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in order to know what they might be giving up in terms of the privacy of their data online, copyright and other internet-related issues, critics say.
"We're dealing with just summary documents. The devil is in the details," said Michael Geist, a professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in internet and e-commerce law.
Geist began years ago trying to cobble together details of the negotiations, and said he has been frustrated by the secrecy surrounding the talks and how hard it has been for people with concerns to have their voices heard.
Even without the full text, Geist sees a line in the summary of the e-commerce chapter of the TPP that he finds concerning.
In order to make it easier for businesses to use electronic commerce for trade, it states that the trade deal includes provisions to protect the "free flow of information across borders" and "prevents governments in TPP countries from requiring the use of local servers for data storage."
As people increasingly put their information online, and since former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about the agency's spying tactics, there's been concern about personal information stored "in the cloud" being moved out-of-country, Geist said.
European governments, as well as the provinces of B.C. and Nova Scotia, have passed laws to keep some personal information on local servers, Geist said. Removing those barriers to the flow of data through the TPP, Geist argued, could benefit U.S. companies.
"When they know the information may well come back to the United States, that's an economic advantage in terms of storing it," said Geist. "It may also, and this is where the Snowden revelations become really troubling, it may open the door to further surveillance."
The office of Canada's Trade Minister Ed Fast told CBC News in an email Wednesday that there's nothing in the TPP that allows for the release of someone's personal information but said the free flow of information is important.
"Forcing localization requirements is a harmful barrier to trade that reduces economic productivity by undermining the efficiencies that are created by cloud computing," director of communications Rick Roth wrote, adding that sensitive government information is store on local servers.
"By requiring the local storage of data, some governments may forcefully access those local data servers."
Concerns about copyright protection
Geist also has concerns about whether the TPP will see the copyright protection for content extended by 20 years, to up to 70 years after the creator dies.
That would prevent works scheduled to come available in the public domain from being used by creators, or accessed by schools for much less cost.
In a technical briefing teleconference for reporters Monday, a senior Canadian official said the concluded TPP is consistent with Canada's regime related to the Copyright Modernization Act and copyright protections in the TPP build on World International Property Organization (WIPO) internet treaties signed by Canada in 2014.
In B.C., the non-profit group Open Media also wants to scrutinize the fine print of the TPP to see if it affects internet users' ability to surf the web freely, said its digital rights specialist Meghan Sali.
Sali's group is calling on the text to be made available for Canadians to see before the Oct. 19 federal election.
"That's where Canadians are actually going to find the answers they're looking for in terms of what's actually in the TPP," said Sali. "Canadians have no idea what they're signing away."
For his part, Geist wants to see "robust" public hearings before Parliament votes on ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership.