By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – President Dilma Rousseff approved last Wednesday a landmark Internet Bill of Rights that guarantees privacy and freedom of speech for users in the country one day after the Senate voted to endorse the law. She announced the law formally at the Net Mundial Internet conference in São Paulo on April 23rd, 2014.
The Internet rights law comes almost a year after allegations of U.S. spying on Brazilian targets surfaced through National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower, Edward Snowden. The information triggered a diplomatic fallout between the United States and some of its allies, including Germany and Brazil.
The news was seen as a major blow to U.S.-Brazil relations as President Rousseff canceled her state visit to the country over the spying allegations last October. In that same month, Rousseff also used her opening speech at the United Nations to publicly denounce the large-scale spying program ran by the United States, which collected telecommunications data of Brazilian citizens, while promising to protect Brazil from further unwelcome surveillance through legislation.
The so-called Constitution of the Internet, as the law is called in some circles, is divided into five chapters. The first one outlines the general guiding principles of the Internet, including freedom of expression and the right to privacy. The second chapter resembles a Bill of Rights of the Internet, detailing users’ rights, such as the confidentiality of communications.
The law was celebrated by both free Internet activists and tech companies like Facebook and Google because it will mean service and platform providers are no longer liable for the content posted to their sites by third parties unless there is a court order, except in cases of nudity or private sexual acts.
The Internet Bill of Rights will also guarantee the confidentiality of e-mail correspondence and that Internet service providers do not charge different prices for online streaming of different kinds of content.
Spying and surveillance, such as that allegedly practiced by the NSA in Brazil, is illegal under the new law, as is selling personal information that belongs to an Internet user without his or her authorization.
“Brazil defends the idea that Internet governance is multi-sectorial, multilateral, democratic and transparent,” she said at NetMundial, a premiere event on the future of the World Wide Web in São Paulo, where she formally announced the law on Wednesday, April 23rd.
She highlighted the need to remove barriers that restrict online participation. “Privacy, universal access, freedom and net neutrality are the basic principles of the Internet’s governance,” she affirmed.
The law was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in March and was approved by the Senate on April 22nd. Its critics charge that Rousseff rushed the law through Congress and did not allow for a proper discussion on its implications. The law passed without a provision that would have forced foreign technology companies to set up new and costly data storage centers in Brazil.
Rousseff also took to the airwaves to once again celebrate the passing of the law during her weekly radio show, Café com a Presidenta, on Monday, April 28th.
“Brazil is at the forefront of this legislation because we are the first country to have a law that consolidates the Internet as a free and democratic space, which is essential for social participation, innovation and above all, to exercise citizenship,” she said.