The technology sector is trying to nudge cybersecurity and other tech issues a little higher up on the priority list for next week's launch of the North American Free Trade Agreement modernization talks in Washington.
The first round of talks among U.S., Canadian and Mexican negotiators is scheduled for Aug. 16-20, to be followed by a Sept. 1-5 round in Mexico City and then a session in Ottawa a few weeks later. Whether it's realistic remains to be seen, but participants have discussed the idea of reaching some kind of deal by the end of the year.
President Trump's Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has already included in its "negotiating objectives" cutting-edge tech issues with cyber implications. These include ensuring uninhibited "cross-border data flows," and prohibiting rules that would require companies to store data in specific countries or force them to turn over proprietary software source code
But the Information Technology Industry Council, the self-described "global voice of the tech sector," is calling on the Trump administration to "enhance its negotiating objectives" by adding more tech priorities.
ITI, in an Aug. 4 blog post by Ed Brzytwa, calls the initial negotiating goals "good first steps."
But, he writes, "At the same time, the objectives omit many global tech sector priorities for NAFTA modernization."
He noted 41 priorities that ITI has identified for the NAFTA talks, and says the administration has fully picked up only 16 of those as formal negotiating objectives.
ITI wants USTR to add goals such as "promoting a free and open internet"; "seeking industry-led, globally 'interoperable' approaches to privacy and cybersecurity"; "ensuring that regulation of online services and applications targets genuine regulatory objectives, and that governments do not make internet intermediaries, platforms, and cloud providers liable for activity by third parties that they do not control"; and "ensuring the use of industry-led international standards in technical regulations."
"We urge the administration to be as ambitious as possible and thoughtfully and deliberately negotiate an agreement that comprehensively sets out the core priorities for future U.S. trade agreements, including in the area of digital trade," Brzytwa writes. "Only by doing so will the administration maximize its opportunity with the modernization of NAFTA to truly turbocharge the U.S. economy."
Cybersecurity issues obviously won't be in the marquee as the highly sensitive and politicized NAFTA renegotiating process gets underway.
But other influential industry groups in addition to the tech community — including auto makers — are also weighing in to urge the administration to tackle issues related to data flows and cybersecurity within the context of NAFTA.
"Cybersecurity and privacy concerns need to be recognized," John Bozzella, head of the Association of Global Automakers, said at an event this week. "E-commerce didn't really exist in large measure in 1993, so the economy has changed and so we need an agreement to recognize those things."
The discussion demonstrates how far the digital economy has come since the original deal was signed in 1993, and how ubiquitous the cybersecurity challenges are across all policy domains.
Charlie Mitchell is editor of InsideCybersecurity.com, an exclusive service covering cybersecurity policy from Inside Washington Publishers, and author of "Hacked: The Inside Story of America's Struggle to Secure Cyberspace," published by Rowman and Littlefield.