TransPacific Partnership puts Canadian IT at disadvantage, says Michael Geist

Digital guru Michael Geist says the TransPacific Partnership trade agreement has a “made in America” approach to the technology sector that will put Canadian companies at a disadvantage.

Trade agreement's digital policies have 'made in America' stamp and that could hurt innovation here

Digital expert Michael Geist says Canadian IT will be at a disadvantage with 'made in U.S.' policies 6:19

Digital guru Michael Geist says the TransPacific Partnership trade agreement has a "made in America" approach to the technology sector that may well put Canadian companies at a disadvantage.

"I think when you look at the digital policies, things like copyright, intellectual property, privacy rules, internet and internet governance rules, there's some real harms that we find in the agreement," said Geist, who is research chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa and a blogger on digital issues.

The Canadian innovation sector has adapted to made in Canada policies and will have to change its approaches if the TPP is ratified, while for U.S. technology firms, it will be business as usual, he said.

"My view, especially on some of these digital policy issues, is we spent the better part of a decade trying to craft rules that better reflect Canadian interests and Canadian sensibilities and we don't see those rules in this agreement," Geist said.

No thought to technology sector

When the previous government touted the advantages of the 12-nation trade agreement, they talked about the benefit to "20th century" industries, such as lumber and the fishery, he said.

We need a robust set of hearings and real consideration of whether the agreement does make sense- Michael Geist

"Missing from all of that is IT – it's technology – it's the engines that increasingly we're going to look to from an economic perspective. Nobody in Canadian government that has suggested it will advantage businesses in that sector."

In many cases, the Canadian rules are stronger and make more sense, Geist said.

On the issue of privacy, for example, the TPP would prevent governments from requiring the use of local servers for data storage.

Rules on local data storage

Provinces such as British Columbia and Nova Scotia have laws that mandate government information (such as health data) must be stored within the country, a requirement that means data on Canadian citizens can't fall under U.S. surveillance.

U.S. law provides less privacy protection to foreign citizens, so there would be little protection for Canadian data held in the U.S.

But Silicon Valley pushed for rules preventing such so-called "data localization reqirements."

Geist said the decision under TPP to extend copyright protection for an additional 20 years – to the life of the creator plus 70 years – will also have real costs to Canadians.

Copyright extension

"Though that may feel like just a technicality from a copyright perspective, as we move into a digital environment, you find more businesses that are using works in the public domain, you find educators relying on those same works, you find the public seeking access to some of our cultural history when it's in the public domain," Geist said.

That's means another 20 years of paying copyright fees on books, movies and music.

"We're talking about a cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Geist said.

He recommends a full public review of TPP, now the full text has been released.

"We need a robust set of hearings and real consideration of whether the agreement does make sense."


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