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RSF urges legislators to oppose cyber-crime bill likely to threaten online free expression

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is worried about the impact of a proposed law on cyber-crime, adopted by the Senate on 9 July 2008, which will soon be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies. The press freedom organisation calls on deputies to clarify the bill's wording so as to safeguard online free expression.

The bill would punish 13 computer activities:
1 - non-authorised access to an information device or automated system
2 - obtaining, transferring or providing of non-authorised data or information
3 - disclosure or misuse of personal information and data
4 - destroying, making unusable or degrading other people's electronic data
5 - introducing and distributing viruses
6 - causing damage by introducing or distributing viruses
7 - electronic deception (phishing)
8 - attacking security services or public utilities
9 - interrupting or disrupting telephone, electronic services, communication devices, computer networks or computer systems
10 - falsifying electronic public data
11 - falsifying private electronic data (credit card and mobile phone cloning, for example)
12 - discriminating against people based on race or color in material disseminated through computer networks (amendment to the Afonso Arinos Law)
13 - receiving or storing pictures with pedophile content (amendment to the Child and Adolescent Statute).

"This bill is potentially dangerous for online free expression," RSF said. "It reinforces surveillance of the Internet and provides for penalties of up to three years in prison without any precision as to how they should be applied. It is still loosely worded, although amendments have been made in the three years since it was first introduced. We urge deputies to examine it closely, in order to clarify its content and ensure that online free expression is guaranteed."

Introduced by Eduardo Azeredo (PSDB-MG) in 2005, the bill is to go before the Chamber of Deputies for adoption of the latest amendments before being submitted to the full Chamber for a vote.

A senate press relations bureau release on 10 July indicated that: "This law will not be applied to those who use the Internet correctly, including those who download music, talk on chat platforms, write their views on a blog, search for information or any other similar activity. A good Internet user will not be punished. Only the growing security that we are developing as regards to technology use will change Internet usage."

RSF calls on deputies to define the "correct" way to use the Internet and the methods that will be used to establish "growing security" online. Under articles 285-A and B, anyone "accessing a computer network, communication device or informatics system by means of a breach of security" or "obtaining or transferring protected data or information without authorisation or in breach of the authorisation of the legitimate holder of computer networks, communication devices or informatics systems" could get one to three years in prison.

"What is meant by 'data' in this bill?" RSF asked. "Does an email address count as data? Does an online posting count as data? What happens to an Internet user who unwittingly transmits a virus? The possibility of being imprisoned for 'transferring' data would have a dramatic impact on online free expression."

The organisation added: "We understand that legislators want to combat online pedophilia and piracy but we urged them to clearly define the punishable offences so that Internet users can be aware of the legal limits to what they do."

Article 22 of Chapter V concerning "crimes performed against or through a computer network, communication device or informatics system," says ISPs must "confidentially inform the competent authority about received complaints containing evidence of the perpetration of a crime" on the Internet.

RSF urges deputies to clarify what ISPs must tell the "competent authority" and what powers this authority has.

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