Trade Secrets Destroy Democracy

Transparency should be the norm, trade secrets the exception, never the other way around

Last April 14th, only 10 days after the revelations of the Panama Papers, thanks to an anonymous source, the European Parliament passed the Directive on Protection of Trade Secrets which, regardless of its exception, establishes the general rule the protection of trade secrets over the right to information.

Our elected representatives accepted that when a corporate abuse is denounced, commercial interest need to be protected before citizens and journalists who report it.

This move is a proof that leaks and reports from civil society are putting an end to abusive behavior by politico financial elites which up until now never felt threatened.

The fight to defend our right to know is not finished yet. With this text we want to share with the civil society what are the next steps to follow:

1 – In the 24 months following its approval in the European Parliament, the Trade Secrets Directive must be transposed(adapted) to the national member states legislation to entry into force in every one of them.

In this transposition we have maneuvering room to put pressure on the governments of each country to correct the imbalances of the Directive in favor of the right of citizens to know information of general interest, and to offer enough safeguards for whistleblowers and journalists.

Trade Secret Directive should serve its purpose as a tool to promote EU competitiveness. This will not be the case if it impedes freedom of expression, information and press or transparency, leading to more financial, health and environment scandals and damaging worker’s rights.

This international coalition urges our governments to uphold the following points at the transposition to the national level which can be consistent with the directive:

  • Protection for journalists
  • Protection for whistleblowers
  • Protection for information disclosed for the general interest
  • Protection for Public Authorities
  • Limit to the liability for damages of employees towards their employers and reduce the limitation period to 3 years instead of 6
  • Protecting clinical trials data transparency
  • Damages appropriate to the actual prejudice suffered
  • Consistency with the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information

We are working on a “transposition guide” to help our legislators take the right decisions to protect citizens rights over corporate interests.

2 – In Europe and several countries from the EU there is an ongoing debate on the need to create a specific legislation to protect whistleblowers. We must urge them to pursue this goal and keep an eye on how they are developed.
Here you can find a Decalogue developed by Xnet and the Citizen Group against Corruption in Spain for the protection of whistleblowers:

3 – To these laws it must be added the defense of the legal use of the information revealed, to counteract the harmful effects of the precautionary measures contained in the Trade Secrets Directive.
In addition to defending the whistleblower, we must make sure that relevant information can be used in court to (re)establish our rights and end the abuses.

There are two important dates in the calendar that we must not forget:

  • Tomorrow, May 17th the Directive awaits its final confirmation by the Council of the European Union. Even though the Council could block the directive to amend its flaws and threats, we doubt it will do it will have the political boldness to do it.
    We will campaign around it on social networks tomorrow from 10 a.m.
  • Let us remember that a journalist, Edouard Perrin, and he’s source, Antoine Deltour, are being judged in this right moment for unveiling a tax evasion case arranged by those who right now are members of some European governments. We must give them all our support and solidarity.