What's Left 2015-10-11 Volume 31

| October 21, 2015


All original content: Building a true Safe Harbour in a digital world, TPP and digital democracy, voting students and a book review and recommendation.


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“FEATURE”

Building a true “Safe Harbour” in a digital world

To help understand the negative impacts of free trade on our digital lives, one can apply the classic liberal fallacy of the “Tragedy of the Commons” to the internet. In the original story, the commons was a field and the tragedy was the abuse of this un-valued land by goat herders. The liberal answer to the tragedy was to commodify the land and the goats. Case closed, the free market sets everything straight. What this solution ignores is that the result was poor farmers, a starving people and rich monopoly renters of goats. Things might have turned out differently if writers had read What’s Left.

Our “Tragedy of the Commons” internet example starts at this final second stage of tragedy. A low regulatory environment for the internet “fixed” with a fully commodified data storage and transmission environment and the US government spying on everyone. However, the answer is not to further commodify and liberalize the system, it is to allow the natural evolution of democratic regulation. To save the internet we must restore democratic oversight.

And luckily for us, this re-establishment of democratic internet regulations is exactly what happened this week when Max Schrems, a 28-year-old Austrian law student won a significant legal challenge: Europe vs. Facebook. This challenge comes after the Snowden revelations of privacy breaches by the US government in an effort to protect online privacy of Europeans—what Max saw as an essential element to democracy.

The court win undermines “Safe Harbour” which is one of the pillars of liberalized (or free) trade in information between Europe and the US. The idea of “Safe Harbour” was to allow Europeans' data to be held under lower US privacy rules. The laws also tended to prioritize large US-based internet companies over smaller, local companies and hindered competition. It also allowed snooping by the NSA.

Weirdly and because it is a classic Commons example, this ruling may also undermine the competition between local and multinationals because multinationals are now so big they have data centres spread around the world. But, competition will be undermined only if the low regulation environment is left intact.

With proper democratic legislation, national governments who want to protect the rights of their citizens to online privacy can now do so. These court rulings allow publicly owned data and local internet services to exist, ending this tendency towards monopoly for-profit ownership of our data.

Cries by corporate apologists who claim this is the end of the “global internet” are exaggerated. An open internet must be a democratic one where people are not concerned that their privacy rights are being undermined by the state or by corporations. The internet facilitates connections between people and this has not changed. What this court ruling does do is give a little control of data ownership back to individuals and undermines those who seek to profit and power from lax privacy regulations.

“CANADA”

Digital Democracy Disallowed Under Trans Pacific Partnership

In the last week, it has become widely recognized that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) undermines democratic control over many parts of our economy. Yet another example of TPP excess is that it explicitly forbids challenges to “Safe Harbour” styled laws, like the successful challenge that just happened in Europe. The result is that TPP solidifies the free reign US internet companies (and US spy agencies) have over Canadian user data.

If ratified, TPP will expand corporate control over knowledge, information and the use of data by the public. The agreement bans strict regulation over trans Pacific data transfer and storage, it undermines local regulation of drugs and expands monopoly rents of patents and copyright. The results are increased costs for consumers through privatization and undermined privacy.

All this adds to a growing list of concerns around the TPP such as undermining of crown corporations, local farming, supply management (and thus food security), labour rights, environmental protections, and even legal rights of citizens' to challenge a company’s illegal activities (see the use of Investor State Dispute Settlement).

Even Democratic Presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have been forced to come out against the TPP. It seems like free trade may have gone too far even for some liberals.

More: [[https://citizenspress.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=27d7d00e19a37005743125d7e&id=8d4067910d&e=8484a6ba75][Hillary Clinton has broken with Obama on a major cornerstone of his legacy]]

Students Are Voting

This week, Elections Canada set up voting stations on post-secondary campuses across the country. Over the course of four days, students were able to vote in their home riding or in their current riding.

In only three days (Monday to Wednesday), 46,000 students voted. Regardless of Harper’s voter suppression strategies, students are making the effort and getting out to vote anyway.

More: Early voter engagement strong, Elections Canada chief says

More: Pop-up polls making the student vote count

“RECOMMENDED READING”

Between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As a writer and blogger for the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates was already well-known as a public voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, having written on issues of race and social policy for many years. The publication of his second book, earlier this year, has had the effect of a shock wave, providing the movement not only with an amplified sense of resistance, but with lyricism and powerful, moving language to lend it credibility.

In Between the World and Me, Coates addresses his 14 year old son to explain to him his own experience and challenges of being black in the United States. He discusses his growing up in Baltimore, where racial injustices and police brutality led to protests just a few months prior to the book’s publication. Central to his argument and narrative is the black body: who owns it, who doesn’t, the intrinsic hopes, fears, joy, tears and injustices that inhabit it. Through his experiences and historical anecdotes, he paints a picture of the contradictions between freedoms and opportunities offered to black people as opposed to those who believe they are white, as described by the author.

The book is a short, intense non-fiction well worth the read to put into context race and resistance in today’s world, as an introduction to the movement, or to deepen one’s connection and understanding of it.

More: The case for reparations

More: Between the World and Me

More: Lunch with the FT: Ta-Nehisi Coates

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