Critics say Big Tech uses trade deals to avoid data privacy laws

Gopal Ratnam, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Tech companies are using international trade agreements to conceal software codes behind artificial intelligence programs as well as circumvent U.S. legislation that could curb the industry’s freewheeling use of consumer data, according to lawmakers and advocacy groups.

As Congress is trying to rein in Big Tech, industry “lobbyists and lawyers are trying to rig the digital trade deals to undermine those new laws,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said last week at an event organized by the advocacy group Rethink Trade.

Tech companies managed to add digital trade rules to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that prohibits the parties from reviewing the source code for artificial intelligence programs and are trying to include similar provisions in the 13-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework trade talks, Warren said.

“Big Tech wants to keep its code in a black box where no one can see what they’re doing,” Warren said.

Negotiators from the U.S. and 12 other countries in Asia have been meeting in Bali, Indonesia, for the past few days to work on the IPEF, a trade deal that is the Biden administration’s signature effort to counter China’s growing economic influence in the region.

The dispute about the role trade deals play in creating global rules for the tech industry comes as Congress is weighing legislation that would address data privacy, content moderation, antitrust enforcement and curbs on artificial intelligence technologies.


House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., say they will revive an effort to pass legislation that would create a federal data privacy standard. The committee approved a bill in the last Congress, but it didn’t get a floor vote.

Rodgers has said holding Big Tech accountable is a key part of her agenda and has called for greater transparency into algorithms and software.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has also promised to pursue an antitrust measure aimed at tech companies. Klobuchar, the chairwoman of Senate Judiciary’s Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights Subcommittee, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the panel, teamed up on a similar bill in the last Congress.

The Coalition of Service Industries, a trade group representing a broad group of service industries, including tech companies, said the trade deals allow exceptions for regulatory bodies to examine software source codes and aren’t intended to limit Congress’ ability to enact domestic laws.


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