Brazil: Congress debates civil rights framework for the Internet

Brazil’s nearly 77.8 million Internet users will have to abide by a new set of rules should the Civil Landmark of the Internet bill become law, which is expected to happen next year. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Brazil’s nearly 77.8 million Internet users will have to abide by a new set of rules should the Civil Landmark of the Internet bill become law, which is expected to happen next year. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

By Patricia Knebel for Infosurhoy.com – 05/10/2011

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – The nearly 77.8 million Internet users in Brazil – according to the latest figures from Ibope Nielson Online – are about to have their rights regulated.

The Civil Landmark of the Internet was introduced to the House of Representatives in September, and it will be scrutinized by at least three committees.

The Federal Government expects the bill to become law by the first half of 2012.

Two years of discussions resulted in the final text, which received about 2,000 contributions to the draft via the Internet, seminars and public hearings held by the Ministry of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs.

The regulatory framework was organized by the Ministry of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs, with assistance from the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s School of Law in Rio de Janeiro.

The Civil Landmark of the Internet was drafted based on the Internet Steering Committee’s (CGI-BR) 10 guidelines for Internet use in Brazil, which focus on issues such as freedom of expression, privacy and collaboration.

“Defining how the Internet industry is going to function and the responsibilities of each individual is the correct way to tackle the problem of legislating in the virtual world,” says Demi Getschko, the Chairman of NIC.br. “Brazil is acting wisely. We don’t need to rush. We need to be confident in the steps we take.”

NIC.br is the civil entity responsible for implementing the decisions of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee.

Discussions about digital crimes will be the next step

The government and most specialists in digital rights argue Brazil should first pass the Civil Landmark of the Internet before introducing bills that criminalize illegal acts committed online.

“Other laws are expected to be introduced as a result of the Civil Landmark of the Internet,” says Marivaldo de Castro Pereira, the Secretary of Legislative Affairs at the Ministry of Justice. “But before we start punishing people, we need to lay out each individual’s rights and responsibilities.”

But her view isn’t shared by Rep. Eduardo Azeredo, rapporteur of controversial Bill 84/1999, which defines 11 specific cybercrimes, such as hacking websites, spreading viruses and the misuse of personal information collected via the Internet.

“The Federal Government has been lacking on this issue because it has avoided a vote on the bill,” Azeredo says. “Of course it’s important to have this basic legislation, but we’re way behind.”

Rep. Azeredo’s proposal has been so heavily criticized the bill was nicknamed the “Digital AI-5,” referring to Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5) of 1968, which was used by then-President Arthur da Costa e Silva to censor the media and arbitrarily punish those opposing his administration.

“It’s a weak argument that falls apart upon serious analysis of the project,” Azeredo says. “Our aim is to defend Brazil’s Internet users, guaranteeing that the Internet is safe and secure and punishing the criminals who use the web to do bad things.”

Hacking state oil company Petrobras, or the government – acts which are not yet defined as crimes – can no longer go unchallenged, Rep. Azeredo adds.

“The idea isn’t to restrict the navigation of users,” he says. “But if you steal an iTunes password and download music you should be paying for, that’s a crime.”

Current legislation does not deal with specifics

The current legislation addresses many of the issues related to Internet use but many topics must be dealt with specifically, says Patricia Peck Pinheiro, a specialist in Digital Rights.

Pinheiro says. “When you fall short in terms of legally providing digital security, you drive away investors and fail to propel deserved technological advances.”

In Latin America, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay already have laws concerning digital crime, Pinheiro adds.

Regarding the Civil Landmark of the Internet, Pinheiro says the bill focuses more on “Internet profligacy” (freedom without responsibility) than on guaranteeing online security.

Given that it requires a court order for law enforcement authorities to access the information of a specific user, the proposal favors anonymity on the Internet, Pinheiro adds.

“That’s forbidden by the Constitution,” she says. “As a result, the proposal does not facilitate possible steps taken to protect people’s rights. Currently, it is understood that extrajudicial notification is sufficient for taking preventative measures.”

With the alleged flaws identified by Pinheiro, the Civil Landmark of the Internet does not take into account the current views of the Supreme Court and the international community that feel application providers (social network providers, blogging websites and services such as free email) should be held accountable for libel.

Pinheiro says a positive aspect of the proposal is it requires Internet service providers keep a record of each user’s activity for at least a year, which does not currently take place.

But she criticizes the proposal because it doesn’t hold application providers to the same standards because under the bill, they aren’t obligated to keep records of users’ activities.

“That undermines the ability to track and identify users,” Pinheiro says.

But Demi Getschko, from NIC.br, worries that requiring application providers to keep records of user activity could lead to dangerous generalizations.

“We can’t make all users pay the price of being monitored 24 hours a day because of the mistakes made by a particular segment of Internet users,” Getschko says. “It’s the same thing as trying to prevent pickpocketing by searching every person who gets on a bus.”

More investment in digital education could prevent much of the wrongdoing occurring on the Internet, says Marco Aurélio Florêncio Filho, a professor at Mackenzie Presbyterian University and vice president of the Brazilian Bar Association’s (OAB) Commission on High Technology Crimes.

“Helping people gain access to a computer and to the Internet is not enough,” he says. “We have to teach people how to use these new tools.”

The main points of the Civil Landmark of the Internet

1. Internet Principles

The proposal seeks to establish general rules on the issue, with principles to guide Internet use by users and businesses.

2. Net Neutrality

The transmission of data packets cannot be discriminated against based on content, origin, destination, service, terminal or application. As a result, a service provider would not be able to interfere with a competitor’s data traffic. Likewise, a company cannot allocate less bandwidth for certain programs, such as those used to download music. All information should travel at the same speed and receive the same treatment.

3. Liability of Intermediaries

Currently, there are judges saying anyone who hosts a website where users are allowed to comment can be held responsible for the damage caused by libel, even without knowledge of said content. The Civil Landmark of the Internet proposes the intermediary who carried out the posting of the material not be held responsible, unless they fail to comply with a court order to remove the content.

4. Recordkeeping

Every time a computer connects to the Internet, it is identified by a code, known as an IP (Internet Protocol) address. The companies that provide Internet service assign IP addresses to their users. Currently, there is no rule that states whether websites or Internet service providers should or should not keep these records, nor to whom and under what circumstances they should provide this information. The Civil Rights Framework proposes that connection records be kept confidential, in a safe, monitored environment, by the service providers, for a term of one year. This information can only be accessed by way of a court order.

5. Directives for Public Authorities

It is the responsibility of the state to provide Internet training programs and reduce inequality of access and use of information and communication technologies. Among the directives for public authorities is the use of the Internet to make government more transparent and increase access to public information in order to encourage participation in the creation of public policies.

Source: Ministry of Justice

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