Meet TISA: The trade agreement you’ve probably never heard of

6 Dec 2016 11:45h - 13:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Burcu Kilic, Public Citizen, started the session by welcoming everyone and introducing the panelists. She then explained what TISA stands for, Trade In Service Agreement. It is an ongoing agreement that is being negotiated by parties of the WTO. She then called Deborah James, CEPR , who joined us remotely to give a brief history of TISA and its relevance to the Internet. Deborah mentioned that historically, public and private provisions and regulations were country based and suited for local conditions. With TISA, however, 23 member states are in talks and still open for others joining. TISA aims to protect retail and distribution rights with no limits.

Structure of TISA:

  • Core text
  • Schedules of commitments
  • Annexes

Then Burcu invited David Snead from I2coalition, an Internet infrastructure company, to share his opinion of TISA. He started by emphasising the importance of TISA for Internet companies, because almost all trade has some impact on services. For example, data processing, this will allow data to move across borders and will apply to all servers, including the new ones. He touched on data privacy and other non-trade issues which are also involved and being discussed.

Maryant Fernandez, European Digital Rights (EDRi), and the session’s organiser, mentioned that they are very involved with TISA and represent 31 organisations. She highlighted the potential of this agreement to undermine the freedom of expression and net neutrality. While they support TISA and the free flow of data for this discussion, she wanted to focus more on what is being proposed. There is some pressure from some business organisations and the US, supported in part by TISA, to include provisions on data transfers and privacy.

Europe has been clear that the two are fundamental human rights and should not be discussed in trade agreements, but including data transfers from the European digital rights perspective means considering the protection and privacy of personal data. When it comes to data localiSation, many stakeholders have shown that is it bad for business, which is understandable, but as already recommended, data transfers must enforce data protection and privacy. The final issue is intermediary liability and some provisions on liability protection, however data is not reliable if they decide to restrict access or ability to certain content, if this data is harmful or objectionable, but not illegal, they would not be liable if they use filtering. If one wants to use trade agreements, freedom of expression should be reflected in the actual text, that is what the European digital rights believe.

Kelly Kim from Open Net Korea, who used to work for the Korean government shared their position on TISA. Giving a brief background on Korea, she mentioned that Korea has a very strong data protection regime, the telecommunications act separately requires Internet users to verify their real identity and they use unique numbers to identify them. In this context, companies have been collecting very sensitive information. Civil societies better negotiate, express concerns and constructive suggestions regarding the provisions that Maryant mentioned.

Mattias Bjarnemalm, European Parliament (Greens/EFA) said that the European parliament does not take part in the procedures concerned; once the trade agreements are finalised, the parliament then gets to vote yes or no to the final text. The parliament is not happy with this way of handling things, where they are basically blocked out of discussions until the very end. It has developed its own methods of trying to influence the commission in the negotiations by adopting resolutions and making statements generally based on leaks. The parliament has been working on data protection for a while, which means that it has a strong interest in making sure that there is legislation. It is also worth mentioning that the member responsible for data protection has been up to speed with the agreement too. For Greens is it nice to see statements like ‘data protection is not a barrier, but a non-negotiable fundamental right that in no way should be compromised’, e-commerce, net neutrality and open Internet.


by Mamothokoane Tlali, Internet Society Lesotho