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!