Lawmakers and advocacy groups are raising concerns about the use of international trade agreements by tech companies to hide their software codes behind artificial intelligence programs. The industry is being accused of trying to circumvent US laws that aim to curb the use of consumer data by these companies. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has spoken out against this practice, stating that lobbyists and lawyers from the tech industry are manipulating digital trade deals to undermine potential new laws. Warren has claimed that the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement contains digital trade rules that prohibit parties from reviewing the source code for artificial intelligence programs, and that similar provisions are being considered for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework trade talks.
If these trade deals are implemented, tech companies will have the power to block legislation and regulations emerging in other countries, including Australia, South Korea, and the European Union. This goes against legislative proposals in the US seeking to examine algorithms and software code behind artificial intelligence programs that can discriminate based on gender, race, and other factors. Lori Wallach, director of the Rethink Trade program at the American Economic Liberties Project, has warned that the widespread adoption of such provisions in trade deals would undermine US laws aimed at regulating the tech industry.
However, the Coalition of Service Industries, which represents tech companies and media, has defended the trade deals, stating that exceptions for regulatory bodies to examine software source codes are allowed, and that the provisions are not intended to limit Congress’ ability to enact domestic laws.
In response to the growing concerns about data privacy, content moderation, antitrust enforcement, and curbs on artificial intelligence technologies, Congress is considering legislation. House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. are working on legislation that would create a federal data privacy standard. Senator Amy Klobuchar has also promised to pursue an antitrust measure aimed at tech companies. She and Senator Charles E. Grassley worked on a similar bill in the last Congress.
The disagreement over the role of trade deals in creating global rules for the tech industry has arisen just as Congress is grappling with these issues. The tech industry has assured lawmakers that they are not attempting to restrict Congress’ ability to enact domestic laws. Christine Bliss, President of the Coalition of Service Industries, has stated that the trade deals are not intended to limit Congress’ ability to enact domestic laws.
It is important to note that the pharmaceutical industry was able to secure a 20-year patent on drugs from the World Trade Organization (WTO), even though US law at the time only allowed for 17-year patents. This was achieved through the signing of a trade agreement that obligated the US to change its domestic laws to conform with the WTO’s regulations. Wallach has cited this as an example of the potential impact of trade deals on domestic laws.
Advocacy groups have written to President Joe Biden, urging him to ensure that trade pacts do not include terms that limit government regulation of data flows related to privacy protections or data security. Rethink Trade has also published a report highlighting provisions in the USMCA that prohibit countries from seeking to examine tech companies’ software or algorithms. The report alleges that tech companies are seeking to include similar provisions in the IPEF discussions.
In conclusion, the role of trade deals in creating global rules for the tech industry has become a contentious issue among lawmakers and advocacy groups. As Congress considers legislation to regulate the use of consumer data and artificial intelligence technologies, the industry is being scrutinized for its attempts to evade US laws through trade agreements.