Digitrade Digest #15

Tech Liability shield should not be part of trade deals, Colombia orders Whatsapp to follow data protection laws, WhatsApp sues Indian government

The Digitrade Digest delivers the latest developments in global digital trade right to your inbox every week. To get the news as it happens, follow us on Twitter @DigiTradeDaily

North America

Tech Liability Shield Has No Place in Trade Deals, Groups Say

Bloomberg Law: A coalition of internet accountability groups is warning the Biden administration against including liability protections for tech companies in future trade agreements, saying that could hamstring efforts to hold platforms responsible for user content.

In a letter sent to President Joe Biden on Thursday, the organizations said including a legal shield in trade deals like the 2018 U.S.-Mexico-Canada accord “reflects a broad effort by the big tech platforms to use ‘trade negotiations’ to limit domestic policy options.”

The letter was signed by 16 public interest groups focused on issues such as civil rights, democracy and the market power of tech platforms, including Public Citizen, Color of Change and the Center for Digital Democracy. The coalition came together as the advocates observed how a ratified trade deal could bake in -- and export -- increasingly controversial legal protections for internet companies, said Morgan Harper, a policy director at the American Economic Liberties Project, which also signed the letter.

The groups are “sounding the alarm about this tactic by Big Tech to undermine the inevitability of domestic regulation that’s coming their way,” Harper said. “We expect that this will be a priority for the Biden administration.”

U.S., Canadian trade chiefs air concerns ahead of USMCA trade deal meeting

Reuters: U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed a range of trade issues with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng on Monday and emphasized the need for Canada to implement new North American trade deal commitments on dairy and e-commerce shipments, her office said in a statement.

In a virtual meeting on the eve of the first meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement Free Trade Commission, Tai also raised concerns about Canada's recently proposed digital services tax, USTR said. The trade agency is readying potential tariffs on six countries while international negotiations on the issue proceed.

Latin America

Colombia orders WhatsApp to comply with data protection rules

Reuters: Colombia's top consumer protection watchdog on Wednesday ordered messaging application WhatsApp to take measures to protect users' personal data, saying it was violating more than half of the regulations governing such information.

The Superintendency of Commerce and Industry said WhatsApp, owned by social network giant Facebook Inc (FB.O), needed to comply with rules meant to ensure users can know, update and correct information about them held in databases and by companies.

The app is also not meeting 75% of data protection rules in a 2012 law, the regulator said in a statement.

South Asia

WhatsApp Sues India’s Government to Stop New Internet Rules

The New Yor

k Times: WhatsApp sued the Indian government on Wednesday to stop what it said were oppressive new internet rules that would require it to make people’s messages “traceable” to outside parties for the first time.

The lawsuit, filed by WhatsApp in the Delhi High Court, seeks to block the enforceability of the rules that were handed down by the government this year. WhatsApp, a service owned by Facebook that sends encrypted messages, claimed in its suit that the rules, which were set to go into effect on Wednesday, were unconstitutional.

Suing India’s government is a highly unusual step by WhatsApp, which has rarely engaged with national governments in court. But the service said that making its messages traceable “would severely undermine the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally” and effectively impair its security.

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The Digitrade Digest is a weekly publication of the Digital Rights Program at Public Citizen.