Sunday, 6 April 2014

Brazil’s ‘Internet Constitution’ to Bolster Privacy, Protect Neutrality

To say countries and world leaders outside the U.S. have been mobilized in the wake of revelations about the NSA’s international and domestic surveillance efforts would be an understatement.  Among the United States’ most outspoken critics has been Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.  In October, Brazil announced its plan to host an “international summit of government, industry, civil society, and academia” on internet governance in part due to failed negotiations with the U.S., to alter the NSA’s controversial provisions.  

Brazil made news this week by inching closer to passing what has been dubbed the country’s “Marco Civil da Internet” (Internet Constitution), which is focused on bolstering the country’s policies regarding internet privacy, freedom of expression, net neutrality, and cybersecurity. On Tuesday, Brazil’s lower chamber passed the legislation.  

According to Al Jazeera, the bill limits the collection and use of metadata and preserved net neutrality, the latter of which had recently been threatened by telecommunications companies. The long-debated bill could act as a model for other countries as it balances the oft-competing interests of individuals, government, and corporations “while ensuring that the Internet continues to be an open and decentralized network.”  The competing interests of individuals and corporations were on full display as the bill’s final contents have been hotly debated.  Corporations lobbied for the exclusion of net neutrality provisions, which would have stratified access to different types of Internet content.  

In deference to those same corporations, the bill eliminated a provision that would have required that corporations store data within Brazil.  Instead, the law stipulates that these companies must comply with relevant Brazilian law regardless of where data is stored.  Analysts such as those at TechCrunch are attributing the bill’s passage to the emergence of passionate, internet-based activists that launched a variety of “Save the Internet”-style campaigns.  Brazilian celebrities such as musician Gilberto Gil heightened the issue’s profile in the mainstream.

One of the key limitations critics have cited about the law is that issues of international jurisprudence (i.e. how this Internet Constitution would affect surveillance like that conducted by the NSA) remain unresolved.  Some of Rousseff’s allies bemoan the compromise that excluded the local data storage provision since it would have helped circumvent international intrusion, but supporters are hopeful that requiring that companies comply with Brazilian law can improve such an effort. 

Although the law continues to allow certain activities that limit privacy, many in the international community see this recent effort as a positive step forward.  Considering Rousseff’s outspoken world leadership against surveillance and for cybersecurity, including this year’s international summit, implementation of this law could inspire other countries to follow suit.  

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