The new Brazilian Internet surveillance

Posted by – 18/07/2008

Here I am writing today to tell something that might not be known outside Brazil – at least, I haven’t read much in English about it – the attempt to turn the Internet into a government surveillance device.

This story goes back to 2006 (and even back), when we first successfully blocked the approval of a bill that would, in effect, turn the Brazilian Internet into a giant Big Brother. This bill was introduced by Senator Eduardo Azeredo as a replacement to a series of other similar bills that were attempted before and was followed by a strong resistance by civil organizations, one of those being ASL, of which I am proud of being one of the founders. By that time we ended having it postponed for more debate.

It happened that the bill made a come back last weeks, and was pushed into approval by a subcommittee of the Senate (one that was suppose to deal with the constitutionality of bills) and now is heading to the Chamber of Deputies for appreciation. Apart from the first debates back in 2006, nothing happened between then and the approval. The bill have changed a little bit, but not much as to change its effects.

In Brazil, we have two legislative houses, Federal Senate and Chamber of Deputies. If a Law Project is proposed by one, is revised by the other. So we have already lost 50% of the fight. Ronaldo Lemos, professor of Fundação Getúlio Vargas (think about a Brazilian version of “Harvard Law School”) have already stated how dangerous such a Law can be, once approved. In his own words: “The wording of the law is too broad, and can be applied in several cases. The interpretation of what is a crime or not will be done by a criminal judge, who is used to deal with homicides and not with technology”.

Since its approval in Senate, several people have been putting together a resistance. Central to it is a Petition, hosted at Petition Online, that already holds 64-thousand signatures. One of the writers of that petition, André Lemos, a university professor and researcher, have said that the regular user will have the feeling of being watched, and not knowing if what he’s doing in legal or not: “For instance, if I disseminate a virus without knowing, will I be arrested? Can I exchange my files in P2P networks (my pictures, my musics, my text files) without asking for permission? How will the ISPs interpretate these exchanges? Can I copy a part of a text from a blog and paste it into mine? This law creates a feeling of insecurity and generalized fear”.

FGV’s Center for Society and Technology have published an analysis of the Law Project, and have spotted a lot of problems in it. For instance:

  • Unlock a cellphone to be used in another carrier or unlock a DVD player, so it reads disks from different regions, can be a crime punished with 1 to 3 years of imprisonment and a fine, as deals article 285-A;
  • Copy something from a blog that doesn’t state access restrictions is turned into a crime since a blog is covered by copyright and, if not stated otherwise, those restrictions should apply, and someone that copies can be punished with the same 1 to 3 years of inprisonment and a fine, as deals article 285-B;
  • Unlock the iPhone using softwares like “jailbreak” is turned into a crime punished with 2 to 4 years of imprisonment and a fine, as deals article 163-A. Even put a link somewhere in your site pointing to the software “jailbreak” is considered a crime;
  • The ISP is turned into a surveillance apparatus, and is mandate to inform the authorities about any of the crimes the Law deals with, as states article 22.

Thinking of how I can help, after sending an email to every Deputy whose email address I was able to get, I decided to translate the law into English (I also uploaded a version with indentation, since it’s pretty hard to understand the whole law without it, if you’re not used to), so the World can be made aware of what’s going on in Brazil. I also just sent an email with it to EFF, asking for their help. Not that I think they can do much, but they surely will know one or two strings to pull in order to put more pressure on the Brazilian government. I also hope that, once this post reaches Planet Debian, even more people become aware of the issue. In a sense, this is an appeal for all the Freedom Culture lovers out there to take any actions they can to help us prevent this Law Project to become a Law.

(In time, I’d like to thank Alexandre Oliva, who revised the translation).

Update (2008-07-23 11:50): Steve Langasek also revised the translation of the Law Project and I’ve made a “cherry-pick merge”, which resulted in the version currently linked in the text above. Older version of the plain and the indented documents are still available. Thanks Steve!

13 Comments on The new Brazilian Internet surveillance

  1. spectra says:

    @Juliano: Sem problemas. Pode divulgar.

  2. spectra says:

    @Paulo: I’ve already sent. I plan to send another one later if I don’t get any replies from them today…

  3. spectra says:

    I know. It’ll be tragic if this bill passes.

  4. wvhillbilly says:

    If they’re going to pass a law like that they better be building a whole lot of prisons, because they’ll be turning half the population of Brazil into criminals.

    Shades of “1984”!

  5. Juliano says:

    Divulguei o seu texto completo no meu blog; passa disseminar um pouco mais a informação; com link para a fonte é claro. Caso tenha algum problema eu retiro imediatamente.

    Juliano R.

  6. Paulo says:

    Please, send an email to EFF – to tell about this article and about what is happening.

  7. eric_hartworth says:

    I just saw this at Reporters sans frontiers ( I believe there’s no limit for politician stupidity. Please, can you answer to Nicholas above, and post a translated version of the petition?

  8. paidegua says:

    que bom que algumas pessoas pensam em como agitar as coisas lá fora e trazer um pouco da atenção internacional para a questão. parabéns. continuem o bom trabalho.

  9. Nicholas Hirtle says:

    Can you post an English version of that petition (since you have an English version of the Law)? I cannot sign something I don’t understand…

  10. John Abber says:

    I signed it also. Just like mad goose, I don’t know if it’ll be any good. Anyways, Ben stole the words from my mouth: how can Gilberto Gil help? Have you contacted him already?

  11. Ben Hutchings says:

    I believe Gilberto Gil is for free culture and would probably be against the DRM provisions at least. I don’t how much he can influence the bill though.

  12. mad goose says:

    I don’t know if it’s worth anything, but I just signed the petition, even not being from Brazil. Good luck.

  13. leo_rockway says:

    Even though I just feel sympathetic towards this cause by what it represents by itself, I must admit that as Argentine I’m really scared about all this. If this bill gets passed it would give our senators the stupid idea that this is something they should do too.

    Planet Debian is on my RSS feed so keep posting about this. I would like to know of any news you get on this crazy bill.

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