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State prosecutor threatens to shut down Google subsidiary over offensive content

(RSF/IFEX) - On 2 November 2007, RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard wrote to the Sao Paulo state prosecutor, Rodrigo Cesar Rebello Pinho, asking him to safeguard freedom of speech on 13 November, when an attempt at conciliation between the Brazilian judicial authorities and Google's Brazilian subsidiary is due to take place.

The Sao Paulo state prosecutor has accused the online social network service Orkut, which is owned by Google Brazil and has more than half of its 50,000 members in Brazil, of carrying racist, pedophilic and homophobic messages. The authorities announced on 27 October that Google's entire Brazilian subsidiary would be shut down if it did not help to regulate Orkut.

The RSF letter reads as follows:

Dear State Prosecutor,

Reporters Without Borders is worried about the Brazilian judicial system's decisions as regards online regulation. You have called for Orkut's closure because of content that allegedly encourages violence, pornography and pedophilia, and you are in the process of getting Google Brazil to suspend all online activities if it does not hand over the user details of those suspected of writing and updating this content.

Google is refusing to surrender its clients' personal data on the grounds that this would violate privacy and freedom of speech. Our organisation is fully aware that in the eyes of the judicial authorities, Google's cooperation would enable them to arrest criminals and it is very important to them.

In a report on online pedophilia in 2005, SaferNet, a Brazilian NGO that monitors the Internet, said that 45,000 Internet pages were violating human rights and that 93.7 per cent of them were on Orkut. Currently, there are more than 19,000 pages dedicated to child porn, according to the NGO.

Reporters Without Borders asks you to give Google and its Brazilian subsidiary time to review the alert mechanisms that detect online abusive content and their procedures for deciding to release the personal data of clients suspected of serious crimes. Google is bound by US law, which protects personal information in order to prevent improper surveillance. Its Brazilian subsidiary's ability to hand over the requested data is therefore restricted.

It is only by being regulated that the Internet can continue to be a place for free expression. It is true that nowadays it is not very clear where online regulation ends and control begins. You should bear in mind that 858 online communities and 2,046 users have already been removed from Orkut, thanks to Google. In 2006, the firm said it would "remove all content that praises racism, pedophilia or homophobia".

Brazil is not an "Internet enemy" and it has always succeeded in managing online activity democratically. Orkut's size is significant. The closure of such a large social network would harm online free expression as much as the dissemination of racist, homophobic and pedophilic messages does. The decision you take on 13 November will set a judicial precedent. That is why we ask you to safeguard free expression and personal data.

We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.

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