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New report addresses crucial free expression issues in Brazil

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 13 September 2012 - The development of information and communication technologies in the past few decades has revolutionised the way in which people communicate and express their ideas. The Internet is now part of everyday life for millions around the world and has thus become a basic requirement for the meaningful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. At the same time, new forms of censorship have appeared which threaten the free flow of information online. The infrastructure needed to access the Internet and the skills necessary to operate online can lead to the exclusion of some groups from this revolution. Faced with these challenges, national legislation and policies can either promote the free flow of information and ideas online or stifle it. This report addresses these crucial issues for freedom of expression in the context of Brazil.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right which is recognised in many international human rights instruments. These international standards are fully applicable both offline and online. Any restriction on freedom of expression online must therefore be provided by law, pursue a legitimate objective, and be necessary and proportionate. In addition, international standards have been developed to address more specific issues raised by the Internet, such as the right of access to the Internet and the net neutrality principle.

In Brazil, information and opinions online are not immune to censorship. Although there is no mandatory filtering of the internet, intermediaries such as Google are regularly requested by government agencies to remove content deemed 'offensive'. The courts also frequently order content to be taken down, mostly in the context of defamation cases. Social media companies, such as Facebook, have also been known to remove content they consider inappropriate. Bloggers and journalists have been threatened with litigation, and more worryingly, attacked or even murdered for expressing their views on the Internet. This environment creates a climate of self-censorship, which is deeply disturbing.

Although there is no specific legislation in Brazil which regulates online content, there are several draft laws which, if approved, would have a strong impact on freedom of expression online. One example of a particularly pernicious proposal is the Cybercrime Bill, which would force Internet service providers to monitor and report alleged violations of criminal law online, essentially turning them into a police force. Another area of concern is copyright law reform, which could lead to the adoption of severe copyright enforcement measures. Other proposed laws, however, are more salutary, like the Civil Rights Internet Framework (or “Marco Civil”), which was drafted after a broad consultation process with different stakeholders, or the plans for increased protection of privacy and personal data online.

The meaningful exercise of the right to freedom of expression also requires access to the Internet, sufficient bandwidth and appropriate IT skills. The Brazilian Government is implementing a number of policies to close the digital gap that divides affluent and urban people from rural and economically disadvantaged individuals and communities. However, more resources and a better allocation of the ones already available are necessary to fully extend the potential of the Internet to Brazilian society as a whole.

This country report seeks to contribute to the improvement of digital freedoms in Brazil in line with international standards of freedom of expression. It is also hoped that it will be a useful resource for local stakeholders in the policy-making process currently taking place in this area. The brief, first, sets out the basic international standards of freedom of expression online. Second, it examines various aspects of online censorship in Brazil. Third, it outlines the key challenges for the protection of freedom of expression, in particular current legislative proposals in this area. The last part is concerned with internet access, broadband and digital inclusion policies.

ARTICLE 19 believes that by integrating international standards of freedom of expression online in draft legislation regarding the internet, refraining from interfering with online expression and establishing the right policies to improve access to the Internet, Brazil could become a regional leader for the protection of digital freedoms. Civil society has a key role to play in effecting these changes by advocacy, campaigning and engaging in dialogue with the Government and other stakeholders.

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