Brazil lays down the law with Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Leading the charge on net neutrality, President Dilma Rousseff signs into law a bill that protects online privacy and promotes an open Internet.

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Edward Snowden probably didn't realize that his leaks on the US National Security Agency would help lead to a Brazilian Internet "Bill of Rights." But, revelations of online snooping and invasions of privacy spurred the South American country to quickly lay down a law that had been in the works for years.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff signed Marco Civil, aka "Constitution for the Internet," into law on Wednesday. This law aims to safeguard online privacy and pave the way to complete net neutrality -- so broadband providers cannot block access or discriminate against Internet traffic traveling over their connections.

With Marco Civil signed into law, Brazil is contributing to the international debate on how the Internet should be controlled, Rousseff said in a statement on Wednesday. Establishing net neutrality helps to ensure users' "freedom of expression, individual privacy, and respect for human rights," she said.

Talk of Brazil's Internet "Bill of Rights" went into high gear after it was revealed, via Snowden leaks, that the NSA was allegedly eavesdropping on Rousseff and other world leaders (the first draft of the bill was written up in 2009). In an open letter that Snowden sent to the people of Brazil last December, he explained in more detail how the NSA allegedly tracks the country's residents.

"Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world," he wrote. "When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there."

The Marco Civil law works to protect users' privacy by putting a limit on the data that companies can gather on people. For instance, the law says that Internet service providers must have controls in place to ensure that email can only be read by senders and receivers.

Many tech leaders around the world are commending Brazil's new law. The so-called inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, said the law could lead to similar international Internet governance.

"I hope that by passing this Bill, Brazil will cement its proud reputation as a world leader on democracy and social progress and will help to usher in a new era -- one where citizens' rights in every country around the world are protected by digital bills of rights," Berners-Lee said in a statement last month. This bill "reflects the Internet as it should be: an open, neutral and decentralized network, in which users are the engine for collaboration and innovation."

Updated at 10:45 p.m. PT to clarify that the first draft of Marco Civil was written in 2009.

 

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