Brazil: On authoriterrorism and online surveillance

Over 60 bloggers attended the blog carnival against censorship [pt] this Saturday, most of them posting especially about the new 13 cyber crimes proposal for Brazil. The bill has now proceeded to the House of Representatives, where a request for it to be handled urgently was put forward last week, leaving bloggers on red alert. If approved, the bill could reach the House's plenary session at any moment, alerts sociologist Sérgio Amadeu [pt]:

A pressa de Azeredo é para evitar a análise das consequências do seu projeto. Sem dúvida, os artigos 285-A, 285-B e 22 atendem aos ineteresses da MPAA, da RIAA e das companhias de TV fechada. Atacam milhões de internautas e querem barrar as práticas de compartilhamento de arquivos, principalmente pelas redes P2P.

Senator Azeredo's rushing is in order to avoid analysis of the consequences of his bill. Certainly, articles 285-A, 285-B and 22 meet the interests of MPAA, the RIAA and TV coorporations. They are an attack on millions of Internet users and are meant to bar the practice of file sharing, mainly through P2P networks.

Some bloggers became more optimistic after the bill was amended. Têmis, from Doutora Responde [pt], a blog that intends to answer reader's questions about law in a simple way, tries to demystify the 13 new cyber crimes. She concludes that after the amendments, the bill is passable, unless the House of Representatives decides not to approve the changes proposed:

O usuário da internet que não rouba senhas, que não invade redes, que não quebra redes para acessar conteúdo protegido e fazer cópias não autorizadas, que não acessa e divulga conteúdo de pedofilia, enfim, a grande maioria, pode ficar tranquila quanto a aprovação do projeto de lei DE CONFORMIDADE COM O ATUAL SUBSTITUTIVO.

The Internet user who doesn't steal passwords, doesn't break into networks, doesn't destroy networks to access protected content and doesn't make unauthorized copies, those who don't access and disclose paedophile content, finally, the vast majority, can keep calm with regards to the approval of the bill conforming to its latest, substitute version.

However, according to others, the situation deserves, indeed, much concern. Alexandre Oliva, Board member of the Free Software Foundation Latin America, claims we are dealing with a “horrible authoriterrorism and on-line surveillance bill” approved by the Senate under the pretense of fighting pedophilia. In an announcement called Authoriterrorism and surveillance, the Brazilian way, the foundation further explains its views:

It further establishes jail time for such broad activities as unauthorized access to computer systems, networks, and data stored in them. In spite of being justified and promoted by banks on the grounds of stopping criminals from obtaining, selling or destroying information through fraud or exploitation of vulnerabilities, it is worded so ambiguously that it can be easily abused by suppliers of electronic equipment (computers such as servers, desktops, laptops, video games, cell phones, digital cameras, media players and recorders, etc) and of digitally-encoded information (text, audio, video, software, etc). Abuses may range from legal threats to actual jail time for people who unlock video games or cell phones to install software not approved by the supplier; who work around deliberate defects in media players or recorders to gain access to their own songs or movies stored in them; who use copyrighted works in ways that do not infringe on copyrights, but that authoriterrorists would like to outlaw.

André Lemos [pt], Federal University of Bahia's Cyberculture Center Coordinator and visiting Professor at Canadian University of Alberta and McGill University, adds that the bill changes very little for criminals, but a lot for regular Internet users, who will not know if what they are doing is legal or not and will feel as if under 24/7 surveillance:

Por exemplo, se eu disseminar um vírus sem saber, poderei ser preso? posso trocar arquivos entre meus pares mesmo em redes P2P (minhas fotos, minhas músicas, meus arquivos de textos) sem pedir autorização prévia? Como os provedores vão interpretar essas trocas? Posso copiar uma parte do texto de um blog e colar no meu? Ou seja, ela cria um sentimento de insegurança e de medo generalizado. Isso bloqueia a imaginação e a criatividade.

For example, if I disseminate a virus without my knowledge, would I be arrested? Can I exchange my files with my mates in P2P networks (my pictures, music, files) without asking for prior permission? How will the ISP providers understand these exchanges? Can I copy an excerpt of a text from a blog and paste it into mine? In other words, it [the bill] creates a feeling of insecurity and general fear. It blocks imagination and creativity.

Lawyer and Sociologist Ariel Foina [pt], who specializes in Criminal Electronic Law and is a researcher on Internet social phenomena and Cyberspace Sociology, has analyzed every point of the bill in a comprehensive post, and comments on the clumsily-worded articles and how they can be dangerously misinterpreted:

na verdade os relatores do PL no Senado afirmam que a idéia aqui não era criminalizar a transmissão de Mp3 ou outros arquivos protegidos por direitos autorais por meio da Internet sem a devida autorização… sinceramente, só me lembro dos marcianos em Marte Ataca dizendo “Nos viemos em paz!” com a rizadinha característica no fundo. […] Além do mais, o texto do artigo é excessivamente genérico o que é “dado”, meu endereço de e-mail é um dado? meu número de cpf seria um dado? um trecho de uma reportagem não deixa de ser um dado… um resultado de uma pesquisa, um percentual de um infográfico qualquer é um dado… divulgar isso, “transferindo-o” seria crime! Um eventual estado autoritário (não que o nosso seja) poderia usar isso como forma de perseguir jornalistas que conseguissem informações não públicas e as publicassem… pessoalmente acho o conceito de “dado” algo abstrato de mais para estar escrito numa Lei… Leis são feitas para serem interpretadas, para dar “segurança jurídica” à toda a sociedade… que segurança se tem quando a letra da lei permite leituras amplamente distintas?

in fact the Bill's authors at Senate say that the idea here was not to criminalize the transmission of MP3 files or other copyright protected files through the Internet without proper authorization … honestly, it only reminds me of the Martians in Mars Attacks saying “We come in peace!” with a little a smirk in the background. […] Moreover, the wording of the article is too generic, what is “data”, is my e-mail address data? would my individual identification number number be one? an excerpt of a news story is still a piece of data … a piece of any info-graphic is data … to disclose it, by “transferring it”, would be a crime! Any authoritarian state (hopefully not ours) could use it as a way to prosecute journalists who obtained non-public information and published it… Personally, I think the concept of “data” is something too abstract to be written in a law .. Laws are made to be interpreted, to give “legal certainty” to the whole society … what security is there when the wording of the law allows widely distinct interpretations?

Bloggers and Internet users demand at very least a long overdue debate, if not the scrapping of the bill all together. The online petition [pt] in defense of freedom and progress of knowledge on the Brazilian Internet has been signed by over 70,500 people – an extra 20,500 signatures since our last report three days ago. The hope is that at least 100,000 will be enough to sensitize the House of Representatives to the need of treading carefully. However, a lot more can be done on an individual basis, as suggests Lucia Freitas [pt]:

Se você é preguiçoso, acha que não vai fazer a diferença, te conto: faz. Que tal a gente conseguir mais de 100 mil assinaturas na petição? Que tal a gente se comunicar com cada um dos deputados de nosso Estado e deixar clara a nossa posição? Que tal a gente propor a discussão de um código que permita prender ladrões (virtuais e reais), pedófilos e outros vermes e ainda por cima continuarmos em rede, sem drama?

If you are lazy, thinking that it will not make a difference, I tell you: it does. Why don't we get more than 100 thousand signatures to the petition? Why don't we talk to each of the council members of our states and make our position clear? Why don't we propose the discussion of a code that allows thieves (virtual and real), paedophiles and other vermin to be arrested and still continue online, without drama?

If approved in the House of Representatives, the final decision is in the hands of the Brazilian president, who could still veto the bill.

Resources in English

The Portuguese text of the proposal is available here, and an English translation by Pablo Lorenzoni reviewed by Alexandre Oliva, member of the Free Software Foundation Latin America, is now also available. See also previous Global Voices Coverage on the issue in May 2007 and November 2007).

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