An international trade agreement under negotiation with Australia, the United States, the European Union and others may have wide-ranging implications for the technology users, according to civil liberties groups.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has analysed leaked drafts of texts for the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) written in February this year, and claims it would prohibit countries involved from forcing vendors to disclose source code used for applications in their equipment.
TISA would prevent countries from requiring that source code for free and open software is shipped with, for example, consumer routers and network gateways - despite the GNU general public licence which says source code must be supplied on request.
Countries would also be unable to force internet service providers such as Google and Microsoft to host customer data locally, the EFF said. It would also require them to enact anti-spam laws.
A total of 51 World Trade Organisation (WTO) member countries are involved in the TISA negotiations, which excludes Russia, China, India, Brazil, the African countries and South-East Asian nations.
The agreement seeks to liberalise trade in services and open markets for signatories.
It has a wide scope and will cover financial services, IT including telecommunications and e-commerce, professional services, maritime and air transportation, competitive delivery, energy, government procurement as well as rules on domestic regulation.
Australia will chair the eleventh round of TISA negotiations taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, from July 6 to 10 this year.
While the negotiations are not public, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has held several rounds of consultations around Australia on TISA, and will continue to do so this year.
The department has asked for emailed submissions from interested stakeholders to assess the costs and benefits of TISA, and to formulate Australian priorities and objectives during the negotiations.