Robin Miller: I’m Robin Miller for Slashdot. Steve, tell me about you and OpenMedia. What do you all do?
Steve: Sure. OpenMedia is a non-profit organization that works to safeguard the open Internet, so we try to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance free. And the way that we do that is by when we need to rallying citizens to send messages to their decision makers, and also putting a kind of policy reports and engaging with the policymakers.
Robin Miller: Okay, policymakers, well... you are in Canada though, are you not?
Steve: Yeah, we’re based in Canada, but about a year-and-a-half ago, our supporters – and they basically call the shots -- told us that we needed to get more involved in international issues because this stuff will affect everyone. So we can win stuff here in Canada, but you can then lose at an international level, so the last year-and-a-half, we’ve been getting more involved in international issues and NSA’s spying stuff as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement because there are no borders with the Internet at the end of the day; if we lose Internet freedom in the U.S. or in other countries, then people in Canada will also feel the effects of that.
Robin Miller: I have been to Saudi Arabia, I have sat in the office on cushions, in the office the man who controls the Internet in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and there’s one pipe to the outside world that he can block any site he wants.
Steve: Yeah, that’s the kind of power we need to make sure it doesn’t come to North America and other countries, and looks like we’re moving in that direction, so that’s why I’m really keen to try and do whatever I can to prevent that because I mean, if we balkanized the Internet like that, if we empower a few people and entities to control the Internet, then I think that we’re going down a dystopian path.
Robin Miller: Yeah, we are. So you decided not to put up like an Internet-free barrier across your Southern border?
Steve: Yeah, I think the free flow of ideas and knowledge and free expression is essential and so I think that that is why the things like what you just described in Saudi Arabia, we need to prevent that sort of power from being exercised elsewhere.
Robin Miller: Okay. How do we do that, you said we contact our decision makers?
Steve: Yeah. Well, one thing that we try to do at OpenMedia is really let people know about concerns about the biggest threats to Internet freedom and to give people tools that amplify their voice to speak out on those issues, and so one thing we’re doing right now is there’s an international agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership that will censor the Internet, it will force ISPs to monitor what we’re doing online, what websites, so we had started a campaign at StopTheSecrecy.net, where people can add their voice to the campaign, and then what we’re doing is we’re projecting messages in Ottawa that will get to the media and decision makers, and each person adds their voice, makes that projection greater and bigger. And so in that way we’re sort of making people’s voice kind of more powerful with decision makers, I mean so that’s just one way that people can get involved.
Robin Miller: So that’s Ottawa, how about Washington D.C.?
Steve: That projection is happening in Washington D.C., yeah.
Robin Miller: Okay. Good, so if we sign on, it gets a little brighter.
Steve: That’s right, it gets a little brighter and we’re also going to project the actual number of people who take part, so everyone will know that I guess right now, it’s at 2.8 million people worldwide [***since this interview, it has passed 3 million***] have spoken out on this issue and as that number grows, we’re actually going to project that number showing decision makers the political cause and the number of people who are concerned about this.
Robin Miller: And you’re projecting this on to the Capitol?
Steve: We’re projecting it on different buildings in Washington D.C., so that they can’t really escape it basically wherever they go.
Robin Miller: Okay. So this is TPP, now it’s not just about the Internet, is it? It’s got a lot of bad trade protocols built-in too.
Steve: Yeah, well, I mean, at OpenMedia the kind of implications for the Internet are kind of paramount for us, so the fact that big content companies will have the ability to lock websites, sensor content, monitor what we do online, that’s essential to us here at OpenMedia, but there is certainly other important material like allowing conglomerates to sue governments if they undermine their profits, so that means that if we decide to change our copyright policy in Canada to enable the free flow of information, then Disney can go and sue our government saying, you undermined our property rights and our profitability. So government is basically prevented from being democratic at that point. So that’s one of the things and there is certainly a whole host of other issues. There’s issues of the environment, many people say it will drive down wages and jobs and hurt the economy. It will drive up the price of medicine, especially in some of the smaller countries, but probably everywhere, so there’s a number of concerns.
Robin Miller: My brother Greg who died last month, spent his last years in Thailand in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, not as tourist, and what he said from his vantage point in Thailand is more or less the patriarch of a large Thai family that he got with the wife. There you don’t marry the woman, you marry the whole family and he did lived happily and had a great life and he thought the TPP was horrible. For one thing he said, you Americans will get screwed, because even now Thailand is supposed to be charging import duties on things like electronics. They don’t. He said, so I buy stuff cheap here, if you want to buy like a pair of pants, fisherman pants or something and have me ship them to you, except in our case, we're brothers so it's a gift, but anybody else just about, he gets hit hard. And he talked about food, and how we know in Mexico, NAFTA killed the small corn farmers because they just couldn’t compete with the Midwest U.S factory farms, not even close. So, the TPP seems to be inciting fear and loathing on the rich side of the barrel, which is U.S and Canada, and on the poor side of the barrel, which is Malaysia and Thailand and so forth. So why in the world is this getting so much traction if nobody wants it?
Steve: Yeah. Well, I mean, that kind of comes back to the secrecy and really the forces that are advancing the TPP, it’s really old media conglomerates and other kinds of large corporations that see it as a way to take more control over the economy and prevent new innovative startups from disrupting their business model, that’s really what it is across the board, it’s those lobbyists that are pushing the U.S government and other governments to sign on to this agreement, and that’s really what it’s all about. And that is why they’re doing it in almost complete secrecy.
The only reason we know about any of the stuff is because there’s been leaked documents that Wikileaks and others have published recently. That’s the only reason that we know about any of this and they’re doing it in secret kind of close door meetings because they know that people, if they know about this stuff and are made aware of it, they won’t allow it to carry forward. So that’s really our job is to make sure that people know about it, because when they know about it they don’t like it and then connect people to decision makers at that point. And that’s why our campaign at stopthesecrecy.net is focused on that secrecy piece because that’s really the first step is making it so that all of the stuff is out in the public, so we can have a real debate about it and I think when we do that, what we’ll see is it fall apart, but I think that’s the first step is it needs to be brought out of the shadows, I mean all of this stuff needs to be on the public record and people need to have input into what these rules are.
Robin Miller: So, wait a minute, this is all in secret, King George and parliament are doing this right? Shouldn't we like get together and you know have a community organized that writes for The Old North Church in Boston out toward Concord and Lexington, yelling, “The British are coming,” because remember; the British are the only country, Great Britain, that has invaded the United States and burned our capital. So it's probably the British again, so do we need to go, take all of the firearms which we Americans own in abundance and go to Lexington and start a revolution? Or what else can we do, how do you say, we can contact the king and the parliament?
Steve: Yeah, I think the best thing to do is to push the leaders in the US, especially Obama and Congress and other decision makers in other countries involved in the TPP and that’s why we’re talking about Canada, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and just really kind of flood them with comments and outcry. I mean just let them know that there will be political consequences.
Steve: Great. So the countries leading this right now, it’s Canada, Chile, the U.S, Mexico, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore. Those are all the countries that are involved in making these decisions and signing onto it, later on this will be expanded probably around the globe, but that’s where it is starting right now. And so I think the key thing to do is, for the people in those countries, but people around the world, is to really connect with those decision-makers, especially in the U.S. but elsewhere as well and just say that we're watching and there will be political consequences if you sign on to this agreement.
So, here in Canada we’re trying to let the government, Harper and the trade minister know that, hey, we are aware of what's going on and you’re going to have to get reelected in like probably a year and you’re going to have trouble with that if you sign on to this, and I think people are doing that in all these countries and kind of signing on, putting up their hand as part of the stop secrecy campaign, as a part of showing that kind of changing the political calculus of the leaders with this agreement.
Robin Miller: So it's not just in the U.S. you’re saying, you people in New Zeeland after you get off work today as an extra in the next Hobbit movie, get on the phone and email and call, even write paper letters and faxes to your parliament leaders?
Steve: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean if people do that in all those countries on that, this agreement will fall apart within a week. So that's the task at hand, to do that outreach with decision-makers in your country, but then also get your friends and tell them to do the same.