Apr 24, 2014 · 5 minutes

Brazil's Senate has unanimously passed a bill that promises to protect its citizens' privacy and guarantee equal access to the Internet. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ratified the bill and presented it during a conference about the Internet's future in Sao Paolo earlier this morning.

The bill will require that Internet companies respect Brazilian rules for how its citizens' data is handled and prevent telecom companies from charging Brazilian Internet users more to access bandwidth-hogging websites, including communications, video, and music streaming services.

But the bill isn't as extensive as Rousseff, who expressed outrage after it was revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on her and Brazilian Internet users, might have liked, because it doesn't require that Internet companies reroute their traffic through the country.

And it doesn't protect the privacy of Brazilian Internet users as much as Rousseff might like for them to believe. As Mozilla notes in a blog post about the bill's potential ramifications:

Although, as with most victories, this one is not absolute. Even though the problematic requirement for global Internet companies to establish data centers in Brazil was erased from the final version, another controversial amendment regarding Internet users’ privacy remained. This is the case of the provision on mandatory data retention (art. 15), which weakens to an important extent the right to privacy of Brazilian Internet users by requiring sites to keep access and usage logs of their online services for six months. [...] The storage requirement exacerbates the risk of having data being misused and imposes higher economic and technical burdens on companies to keep all of this sensitive data properly and securely stored.
The bill is noteworthy for the protections it affords to Brazilian consumers, however. Brazil has taken a stance on net neutrality that is far more comprehensive than the United States' limp-wristed attempts to regulate rapacious companies like Comcast, and it should be celebrated for that.

But it's not going to make Internet privacy any more attainable than it already is. It seems that way, and the NSA's spying on Rousseff provided the Brazilian government with the support it needs to make big changes like this, but it may really just another attempt to control the personal information gathered by companies like Facebook, Google, and the rest of Surveillance Valley.

Reactions from around the Web

ZDNet notes that the bill was rushed through the Brazilian government so it could be mentioned during today's conference:

Following this first milestone, there were several amendments to the Bill suggested by senators. However, president Dilma Rousseff and her supporter base barred these proposals — if they had been considered, the Bill would have to return to the Lower House of the Congress, causing additional delays.

President Rousseff was keen to speed up the voting process of the Marco Civil because Brazil's own Internet Bill of Rights will be the highlight of her NetMundial speech today and her government's response to the intelligence surveillance operations in allied countries carried out by the United States.

The Wire expands on Mozilla's concerns about the bill's privacy implications:

It also gives the government more control over the internet by forcing companies to follow Brazilian law. As we saw with Turkey and Twitter, that can be used against as well as for free speech. With the World Cup coming soon, Brazil could be keen to suppress the social media-fueled mass protests it experienced last summer. Then again, Rousseff "praised the protests as democratic," as Reuters put it, so she may well be just as proud of protests in the future. Like, for example, the ones happening in Rio de Janeiro right now.

Reuters places the bill in context with the revelation of the NSA's spying efforts:

The revelations of NSA espionage using powerful surveillance programs upset relations between the United States and Brazil and led Rousseff to cancel a state visit to Washington in October and denounce massive electronic surveillance of the Internet in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, another leader that the NSA was alleged to have spied upon, have led international efforts to limit digital espionage over the Internet.

Pando weighs in

I wrote about World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee's call for an online bill of rights:

The idea of a free Web where everyone can communicate without fear is starting to fade away. It is being replaced with a Web where countless intelligence agencies take advantage of the exploitation of private companies to create a digital panopticon from which few will leave. An online bill of rights might not deter such surveillance — laws have not stopped intelligence agencies in the past — but it could be a first step towards realizing the Web for which Berners-Lee has fought since he filed his first proposal all those years ago.

But, then again, it might also be a symbolic gesture destined to give excited Web users hope while governments and businesses ignore its edicts like they ignore other principles and laws. A bill of rights for the Web is as theoretically appealing as the open Web itself — and, like the Web, the reality will probably differ from the principles it’s meant to represent. I also wrote about the FCC’s unwillingness to defend the free Internet after Wheeler said that deals like that aren’t covered by existing net neutrality laws:

Splitting issues that could affect the foundation of the Internet and allowing companies like Comcast to hamstring the greatest technological innovation in human history — or at least the innovation just behind man-made fire and wine — because the FCC wants to focus on semantics is insane. The Internet isn’t just the series of tubes connecting Comcast’s infrastructure to our homes: it’s the whole damned thing, from the servers operated by companies like Netflix all the way down to the cables in our homes.

Comcast might not be violating net neutrality laws, but it’s certainly violating the spirit behind them. It’s about time the FCC did something about that. And then I wrote about the European Union’s attempts to defend the free Internet:

The legislation is meant to provide access to online services ‘without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of the sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application.’ For example, ISPs would be barred from slowing down or ‘throttling’ the speed at which one service’s videos are delivered while allowing other services to stream at normal rates. To bastardize Gertrude Stein: a byte is a byte is a byte.

Such restrictions would prevent deals like the one Comcast recently made with Netflix, which will allow the service’s videos to reach consumers faster than before. Comcast is also said to be in talks with Apple for a deal that would allow videos from its new streaming video service to reach consumers faster than videos from competitors. The Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality laws don’t apply to those deals, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, so they are allowed to continue despite the threat they pose to the free Internet. [image adapted via wikipedia]