With approval of new internet law, Brazil steps forward on digital democracy debate

After almost three years of discussions and negotiations, a bill proposing a legal framework for internet operations in Brazil was approved by the two chambers of Congress and signed into law by President Dilma Rousseff on April 23 in São Paulo, during the opening of the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance - NET Mundial, Agência Brasil informed.

The passage of the country's "internet constitution" will guarantee net neutrality and prohibit information discrimination in the country. In other words, internet providers will be barred from favoring certain content when transmitting it to their clients. In practice, for example, this will mean that telecommunications companies will not be able to charge higher rates to users who view more videos or use more file-sharing applications.

Beyond the issue of net neutrality, the new legal framework -- or "Marco Civil" -- guarantees citizens' right to online secrecy and privacy, establishes that the only reason to discontinue a user's internet service is failure to continue paying for it, determines that the exclusion of content from sites, blogs and other online services can only be requested and granted through a judicial order, and requires internet access providers and websites to store users' private data -- like their IP addresses and time of access -- during a minimum period of one year, news portal iG reported.

But even though most civic organizations celebrated the passage of the law, its article 15 has been criticized for requiring internet companies to store users' access data. In a letter to Rousseff, several social groups called the president to strike down the article.

The law also establishes that it will now be illegal for internet companies to collaborate with foreign intelligence agencies, a provision that was motivated by revelations last year that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the Brazilian government, the BBC reported.

"The approval of the Marco Civil is an important step for Brazilian society since the internet increasingly  becomes an indispensable technology for all sectors of society. The Marco Civil is also an important example of what Brazil offers the world, having approved a law that establishes the rights and responsibilities of citizens, enterprises and the government on the internet," said the coordinator of Brazil's Internet Consulting Council (CGI), Virgilio Almeida.

For the CGI, the multi-sector group that put together the country's internet usage and development initiatives, the passage of the law places Brazil in a global leadership position in the debate regarding the future of the internet.

"Our legal framework model could influence the global debate in the search for a path to guarantee the real rights of the virtual world," Rousseff wrote on her Twitter account.

In her opening speech at Net Mundial, Rousseff noted that the United Nations presented a proposal to establish a global legal framework for the internet and, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called for a resolution on online privacy rights, news site R7 reported.

French newspaper Le Monde underscored that Brazil, as opposed to France and other countries, stood up to the United States after the NSA scandal. The newspaper noted that thanks to Rousseff's "great outrage" at Edward Snowden's revelations, the international movement for internet reforms grew. According to documents revealed by Snowden, Rousseff herself was monitored by the NSA.

Le Monde also highlighted the key role that Brazil played during the international conference on internet governance, which received representatives from the private sector and civic society in more than 80 countries to discuss the topic.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.