Much has been said about the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The agreement marks the largest attempt at a cooperative, free-trade agreement in history, as it includes a dozen countries located along the Pacific Rim. With such a large bill comes obvious hiccups and problems that will need to be addressed. The key issue with many of these problems revolves around the secrecy that the agreement was negotiated under. The video below from the BBC gives more details on the TPP.
Update: since the BBC video was posted, a copy of the TPP was released by the New Zealand government, reported November 5 by The Guardian. New Zealand’s full version of the TPP is available for our readers, here.
Briefly discussed in the BBC’s report were issues surrounding milk purity. Lately, milk has been popping up in the media, as countries including Canada are concerned with milk entering the country that was produced from hormone-injected cows. The Bovine Growth Hormone, currently banned in Canada, is used just south of the border in the United States. As a result of the TPP, consumers wishing to refrain from the imported dairy product would need to be much more careful when shopping. While the issue of food purity is quite important and must be addressed within the TPP, another issue of the TPP is directly affecting the members of our communities: that the technology forming the world around us is secure.
White Hat Hackers
Within the new TPP is an agreement that would attempt to stop people from compromising technology. This specific area of the TPP has wide-ranging consequences, as seen in Jordan Pearson’s article for Motherboard. These consequences range from hackers attempting to purposefully discover security flaws in software to a farmer attempting to fix his new high-tech machinery. Users who breach this section could face penalties, including fines as well as the confiscation and destruction of their devices.
A specific consequence of this section of the TPP would be our very own white hat hackers. Unlike the malicious hackers who form our negative opinions of the term “hacker”, white hat hackers are usually security experts who hack software to determine security threats that might exist within the software. Once a threat is discovered, like we saw this year when Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek hacked into a Jeep Grand Cherokee, the threat is reported to the appropriate manufacturer so that solutions can be devised and better technology developed for all users.
The TPP, however, would stop this work and impose the sanctions on security researchers outlined above, including those who are as respected in the field as Miller and Valasek. While the hinderance of our security researchers with fines and confiscation is already troubling enough, it is only a small consequence compared to the larger implications this agreement tries to impose on hackers––losing the ability to tinker with software.
The Ability to Tinker
Jennifer Granick’s keynote speech at this year’s Black Hat USA conference discussed how our internet landscape currently looked, and what we could do to ensure it was the type of internet that we, as online privacy advocates, dreamt of. Within that dream was the ability to tinker, to explore and understand the technology around us and how it works––in essence the exact thing our white hat hackers do to ensure our technology is safe from hackers with malicious intentions.
Without the ability to tinker, businesses, with bottom-line interests, will determine the appropriate levels of security in the technology that increasingly surrounds us. Judging by the sheer number of devices hacked in recent years alone by white hat hackers (i.e., cars, medical devices, industrial pants, biometric data, etc.) we are right to be skeptical about corporate security/privacy efforts going forward. As society pushes forward and becomes increasingly connected, the ability to tinker and understand the technology functioning around us becomes more and more important. Without it, Granick says we will come to a day when life and death decisions are made by technology, and we as a society will not understand how the technology making those decisions functions, or how secure they are.
Take a moment to voice your opinions on the TPP and let us know how you think the TPP could be adjusted to better serve government, business, and, of course, us––the everyday users of technology.
About Ryan Jeethan
Ryan is a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Arts & Business program focusing on UW’s unique Speech Communication program.