In June 2013, millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest for better public services, political reform, and the end of corruption. These protesters shared a desire for more public participation in public life and demanded that the voices of discontent, including those expressed online, be taken into account by decision makers in government.
Years before, the drafting process for the “Marco Civil,” a bill of rights for the Internet in Brazil, had put into practice many of these aspirations. In 2009, the Ministry of Justice and the Center for Technology and Society at the FGV Law School in Rio de Janeiro launched an online platform on which anyone could participate in the drafting of the “Marco Civil da Internet.”1 The initiative emerged after widespread public reaction to proposed reforms to the Cybercrime Bill, put forth in 2007. The proposed bill was an attempt to bring Brazilian law in line with existing international norms, including the Convention on Cybercrime.2 However, like the American bills SOPA and PIPA, it used what some saw as overly broad language to criminalize the free flow of users and information online.
The bill was lambasted in an online petition signed by prominent regional academics for “violat[ing] the freedom, creativity, privacy, and dissemination of knowledge in the Brazilian Internet.”3 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, in an address to the International Forum for Free Software, voiced her opposition as well, stating that the proposal “doesn't aim to fix the abuse of the Internet. It really tries to impose censorship.”4 A modified version of the bill was approved by Brazil’s Senate in 2008 but languished in the House of Representatives, where it was ultimately vetoed in 2012.5
The Marco Civil draft grew out of more than 800 initial contributions made via the online platform and via email. Successive drafts were debated online and at multiple public hearings.6 The draft of the Marco Civil, thanks to public participation, embraced a remarkable set of rights. Issues covered include net neutrality, privacy, freedom of expression, safe harbors for intermediaries, open government, and limitations on the retention, and access to user data. The Executive Government approved the draft, and President Rousseff sent it to Congress in August 2011.
The Marco Civil was scheduled to be voted on several times in late 2012, but pressure from telecommunications companies, which are not happy with the net neutrality and privacy provisions, has delayed the vote.
The bill remained in limbo through the first half of 2013, but Edward Snowden’s allegations have tilted the game. President Rousseff strongly condemned the revelations of NSA surveillance activities and renewed pressure on Congress to approve the Marco Civil as quickly as possible. The government also introduced a highly criticized amendment into the draft bill: a new provision that mandates that data collected locally about Brazilian citizens or companies must be stored in Brazil.7 If approved, global Internet companies will have to maintain datacenters in the country. The proposed amendment, as expected, has stirred quite a lot controversy and is currently being widely debated.
The importance of the Marco Civil should not be underestimated. The lack of specific Internet laws, which has been the case in Brazil for many years, does not necessarily lead to greater online freedom, but to a high level of legal uncertainty, contradictory court decisions, and threats to privacy. If approved in its original draft, Marco Civil will be an example of a positive, rights-enabling legislation, capable of influencing other countries.