Internet Legislation Sparks Privacy Fears
With few exceptions, just about any type of content is a few keystrokes away on a computer or a few taps away on a smartphone. The accessibility of information is by design: the Internet’s architects were academics who wanted a way to share information freely. As a result, the system has largely developed with few restrictions.
In 2014, Brazil took steps to create Internet rules with the Marco Civil. While the law’s scope includes rules that govern both privacy and security, a new legislative measure could erode some of the privacy protections in the law.
The Marco Civil created a regulatory framework for the Internet in a way that largely protects Internet freedom. The text of the law guarantees the “freedom of speech, communication, and expression of thought, in accordance to the Federal Constitution.” However, Congress is now weighing legislation that opponents say would threaten those freedoms. Early drafts of the bill propose to expand the scope of existing libel laws by adding social media to the activities subject to such laws. The change would also double penalties for violations and allow claimants to seek permanent removal of the allegedly harmful online content, Slate explains.
Opponents of the legislation and advocates for Internet freedom fear that the changes would threaten user privacy and freedom of expression. The Marco Civil states that Internet providers can hand over their customers’ personal data only under a court order. Under the current law, the only exception, the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, is instances of money laundering. But the Foundation interprets the new draft legislation as requiring Internet providers and technology companies to collect information from their users.
“The bill transforms a tiny opportunity for the authorities to circumvent the courts into a universal requirement to collect and store subscriber[s’] personal information,” the Foundation writes. “Now, every website and smartphone app provider must demand this information from their users, store it, and hand it over to law enforcement when they ask.”
Every democracy must balance the rights of the individual against the security of society. It’s unrealistic to expect the Marco Civil to remain unchanged by new legislation over time, but some of the changes currently being proposed seem to contradict the spirit of the original law. When it became law, the Marco Civil was upheld as Brazil’s “Internet Bill of Rights.” It was the product of a lengthy and deliberative process hashed out over hundreds of drafts. It’s reasonable to expect that the process to modify such a landmark law will be equally thorough.