The New Yorker, October 7, 2015
When we talk about trade, we often think about material goods. News articles on the subject are illustrated with images of ships weighed down with big, corrugated containers, presumed to be filled with shoes, tires, cell phones, apples. And much of the discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal announced earlier this week between the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore, and New Zealand, has focussed on the movement of such goods across borders. But on Monday, after the deal was announced, some in the tech industry were fixated on a more of-the-moment aspect of the deal: its regulation of the movement of digital information—the substance of our music streams, financial payments, online communications, and just about everything else we do on the Internet.
Among the people interested in these details was Victoria Espinel, the president of a trade group called the Software Alliance, whose members include Apple, Microsoft, and other influential tech companies. “The ability to use data—the ability to store and analyze it and have it move back and forth across borders—is really important not just to the software industry but to the global economy at large,” Espinel told me. The Software Alliance has been concerned, in particular, that some countries require information about their citizens to be stored on domestic computer servers and not transmitted outside. Not having full access to data makes it difficult for companies to maximize the revenue that comes from digital information; it could also make it hard, in some cases, to even operate in certain countries. Espinel told me that her group lobbied officials involved in negotiating the T.P.P. to include language that would require countries to support the free movement of digital information across national borders.