Brexit Vote May Be Great News for Digital Rights

Fears of what Brexit could actually mean in the long term are certainly high right now. While uncertainty is stoking fears of the unknown, there could be a silver lining for digital rights supporters: it may throw certain international trade agreements at risk.

Many are billing the Brexit vote as a historic one. In a result of 52% to 48%, citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the Eurozone. On the lead up to the vote, the sentiment was that remain would win the vote. Instead, many were surprised by the Leave side winning the day. The ensuing climate after the vote was a great deal of uncertainty. What happens now? How will economics and politics be affected by the vote?

If you are on the remain side, chances are, the uncertainty has raised a lot of fear for the future. If you also happen to be on side with digital rights, there could be a practical silver lining in all of this. If you’ve been following the various international trade agreement, you’ll know that they contain provisions surrounding online censorship and criminal liabilities for infringement. One such agreement is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

As we’ve discussed earlier, CETA contains numerous provisions surrounding copyright laws. Some of those provisions discuss DRM overriding fair dealing and fair use provisions. Other provisions force countries to implement site blocking and a three strikes law. There are even provisions that allow border patrol to seize your cell phone at the border for the purpose of enforcing copyright laws. So, what does this have to do with the Brexit? As it turns out, a lot.

According to the Huffington Post, trade experts are saying that CETA could be thrown into doubt thanks to the Brexit vote. From the report:

“Will the remaining European Union countries see Canadian trade as sufficiently valuable to them now to complete this agreement? How long might it take for Canada to patch together a bilateral agreement with Britain modeled on CETA?”

Sands and Hampson noted that British Prime Minister David Cameron was an important ally to Canada during the CETA negotiations.

The British were helpful in resolving the final roadblock in the negotiations, assuaging concerns in Germany and France over the investor settlement dispute mechanism that threatened to scuttle the deal after Canada and the EU signed an agreement in principle in 2014, said Hampson.

Richard Haas, president of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, said the decision by British voters might mean the end of the American ambitions for its own free trade deal with Europe, which is in an early stage of negotiations.

These views are not exclusive to the CETA agreement. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is now in question as well for some observers. Previously, we’ve analyzed the agreement and found numerous provisions in there that were very anti-digital rights. Provisions in there include the unmasking of domain name owners, enforce longer copyright terms, add criminal liability for DRM circumvention, mandate ISP-level surveillance, enforce copyright even before infringement takes place, and also compel border security to seize your cell phone at the border for the purpose of enforcing copyright laws.

According to a TPP supporter writing for Time, the TPP could also be in jeopardy:

It will take some time before the turmoil and turbulence eases after Britain’s vote to exit the E.U. The U.S. economy is resilient enough to withstand the short-term impacts of this volatility. What should be of greater concern is the political thunderbolt of anti-globalization we’re seeing in many parts of the world – including here at home.

The same isolationist arguments which fueled support for the U.K.’s exit from the E.U. are evident in America’s current political climate, too. And that spells even more trouble for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) later this year.

A third agreement which Britain was a participant in was the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). While we do not know the full extent of the laws embedded in that still secret agreement, we do know ISDS provisions are lurking in that agreement as well. ISDS provisions are well known for giving corporations the power to sue governments whenever they pass laws that get in the way of profits or future potential profits. According to Sputnik News, even that agreement was dealt a blow with the Brexit:

The interview came after the United Kingdom announced that nearly 52 percent of British voters had chosen in a referendum to leave the European Union, in a move known as Brexit.

“I really think Brexit has dealt a serious blow to the TTIP. On the one hand, the peoples of Europe are on the edge, on the other — the United States faces the presidential elections in November which may see Donald Trump coming to power. This could be a repetition of the vote on Brexit,” Asselineau said.

Whether or not the agreements can be worked around this new reality for Britain remains unclear. Still, if you were on the remain side and support digital rights, there is a silver lining to be found in all of this.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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