The White House building in Washington.
For decades, multinational mega-corporations have abused our trade policy to secure rules that benefit them at the expense of workers and consumers, all done in secretive negotiations lacking in public accountability.
Fortunately, President Joe Biden’s administration is making it clear that its support for workers doesn’t stop at the water’s edge.
The Biden administration recently shut down an effort spearheaded by Big Tech to use trade negotiations to override Congress’ efforts to end mega-platforms’ abuses of workers and consumers. Corporate lobbyists are now engaging in an all-out assault to try to bully and intimidate the administration into reversing course. But this effort simply underscores the extent of the shift in priorities for trade policy under the Biden administration. This administration is putting workers and consumers first, and big corporations can’t believe their eyes.
In 2019, firms such as Google, Amazon and Facebook convinced President Donald Trump’s administration to propose rules at the World Trade Organization that were designed to benefit multinational corporations without regard to the rest of us. These provisions would have granted Big Tech worldwide control over consumers’ and workers’ personal data, leaving little room for governments to act, even to protect privacy or national security. Unsurprisingly, Big Tech interests continued to push for similar terms to be included in the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).
Incorporating the preferences of companies seeking to profit from tracking our every move into binding trade agreements would undermine enforcement of domestic policies that safeguard online privacy or rein in data brokers. It would be nearly impossible to implement protections for data generated by online location tracking or sensitive online searches about health.
Corporations are also motivated to promote lax data rules in order to consolidate their power over workers. Without guardrails, the use of “bossware,” used to snoop on workers even when they are off the job and interfere with their attempts to improve their working conditions, would go unchecked. Allowing unfettered access to consumer data would make it much easier for companies to offshore service sector jobs and move the work frequently in an international race to the bottom that lowers standards for workers worldwide. The Philippines, an IPEF country, has become a notorious venue for unionist assassinations and violence against local workers seeking to organize at call centers serving American customers.
Rules on data that prevent regulators from doing their jobs properly also could jeopardize our security. Bipartisan proposals to limit transfer of large bundles of Americans’ personal data to China would no doubt face legal challenges. So could proposals to protect our infrastructure from cyberattacks by storing operational data from nuclear power plants, water systems and other sensitive infrastructure in secure domestic facilities.
Given these threats, it was wise for the Biden administration to inform the WTO in late October that the United States no longer supports corporate-backed provisions banning any regulation of cross-border data flows, processing and storage. This followed a Biden administration decision last year not to pursue extreme digital trade rules in the IPEF.
In its fight to try to reverse the Biden administration’s smart WTO and IPEF actions, Big Tech is falsely claiming that these steps will help China. This is simply not the case. We do not need to forbid every government worldwide from setting any rules on how data may be handled in order to address the kind of meddling China and other authoritarian governments are doing with their own citizens’ data and ours. In fact, the Biden administration’s moves preserve policy space to protect Americans’ data from being mishandled in China.
We must recognize these ploys for what they are: Big Tech simply wants to maximize its flexibility, profits and control over Americans’ data.
As the president said in his State of the Union address last year, “It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online (and) ban targeted advertising to children.” The Biden administration took the right first steps to realize this vision by blocking Big Tech’s sneak attack on workers, consumers and small businesses. Now the administration must develop new rules that prioritize our privacy, our workers’ rights and our safety. After all, our data belongs to us, not to Big Tech.
Tribune News Service
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