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Brazil: Inventive censorship, and the case for anonymity

Brazil got used to being recognized for its Internet savvy and large population of early web-adopters. Nevertheless, or maybe exactly because of that, the country is rapidly becoming a haven for novel and inventive models and tactics of Internet censorship.

A quick search on ‘brazil’ + ‘censorship’ in Global Voices returns a bunch of scary titles posted just in the last 6 months: Dismissal of Brazilian Blogger: Censorship or Just Business? (March 23rd), Bloggers united against WordPress ban (April 12th), First blog falls victim to electoral law (June 1st), Blogging Against Web-Censorship (June 19th), Bloggers question the 13 new cyber-crimes (July 17th), Electoral censorship at work (July 22nd).

This time, the weird news sprouts from the state of Minas Gerais, where governor Aécio Neves is carefully preparing himself to run as presidential candidate in 2010, when Lula leaves office. In the midst of country-wide municipal elections, the opposing online journal ‘Novo Jornal’ was taken down by state level prosecutors — the Public Ministry — on (refuted) charges of anonymity.

Truth is that the Brazilian Constitution sets up an unusually twisted situation, especially for online speech: free expression of thought is assured in the same paragraph where anonymity is formally forbidden. Still, the seizure of ‘Novo Jornal’ is calling the attention of the blogosphere for the inventive strategy of using state level prosecutors and cybercrime allegations to immediately take down an informative website without the proper legal process. Blogs are also pointing out the fact that the mainstream media has been silent about the case — in what has started to appear as a pattern when it comes to negative coverage on Aécio Neves.

The matrix-like display forced upon ‘NovoJornal's web page sets the tone.

This page is suspended by a legal precautionary measure and the site content is being analysed for criminal evidences
This page is suspended by a legal precautionary measure and
the site content is being analysed for criminal evidences

State Prosecutors on the Combat of Cybercrimes

A justificativa do MPE, retirada do site do jornal O Tempo: “Instaurado o Procedimento Investigatório Criminal, constatou-se que não há identificação do responsável pelo site – que se intitula jornal, fato que fere frontalmente a Constituição Federal que prevê que é livre a manifestação do pensamento, sendo vedado o anonimato, além da Lei de Imprensa, que se aplica à Internet”… Independente de lados políticos, postura jornalística, anonimato ou não, o que percebo é que os braços da censura estão à solta, e a História mostra que eles costumam ser usados por aqueles que estão no poder, poucas vezes com boas razões. Mais do que apoiar ou condenar, é preciso ficar de olho, fiscalizar. Pensando bem, não era essa a função do Ministério Público – e, em outra esfera, da imprensa?
E tem gente que pensa que calice é coisa do passadoNaRua.org

The State Prosecutor's consideration is stated on O Tempo's website: “Once the criminal investigation procedure started, it was found that there is no identification of who is in charge of the site — which labels itself as a Journal — resulting in a frontal violation of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees the free expression of thought but forbids anonymity, and also the Press Law, which applies to the Internet”… Apart from [issues of] political partisanship, journalistic viewpoint or anonymity, the one thing I perceive is that the arms of censorship are reaching out, and history tells us that they are usually utilized by the ones in power, and rarely for good reasons. More than debating the merits of the case, it is important to stay alert and be on guard. Thinking about it… wouldn't that be the role of the State Prosecutors, and from the other side, of the media?
There are people who think censorship is something from the pastNaRua.org

No momento em que foi retirado do ar, o Novo Jornal trazia em sua primeira página uma matéria com pesadas críticas ao Presidente do STF, Gilmar Mendes. A matéria ainda pode ser lida no cache do Google. O Novo Jornal também denunciou que o governador Aécio Neves pagou US$ 269 milhões de dívidas da Rede Globo de Televisão na compra da Light.
Retirado do ar site jornalístico que continha denúncias contra Aécio NevesO Biscoito Fino e a Massa

At the moment it was taken down, the ‘Novo Jornal’ website was displaying on it's home page an article heavily criticizing the Federal Supreme Court president, Gilmar Mendes. The article can still be read in Google's cache. “Novo Jornal” also decried that Aécio Neves payed US$ 269 million of Globo TV Network's debts on the purchase of Light [Electric Company].
Brought down news website denouncing Aécio NevesO Biscoito Fino e a Massa

Ao contrário do argumentado pelo Ministério Público, o Novojornal encontra-se rigorosamente dentro da lei, inclusive com diretor-responsável registrado na DRT, detentor do MTE nº 000311/MG, respondendo o mesmo por todas as matérias não-assinadas publicadas no Novojornal… Dessa forma, comprovado está que jamais existiu o anonimato argüido pelo MP-MG. Inclusive o diretor-responsável e o endereço de sua sede encontram-se registrados no Registro.br, cadastro oficial de todos os sítios da internet no Brasil.
Continua censurado por Aécio Neves o site ‘Novo Jornal’Em cima da notícia

Contrary to the State Prosecutor's arguments, “Novo Jornal” was strictly under the law, with it's Director in Charge registered at the Regional Labor Office, holding the MTE nº 000311/MG, what puts him in charge of all the non-signed articles published at “Novo Jornal”… That's how it is proved that there never was no anonymity as stated by the State Prosecutors. NovoJornal's Director in Charge and it's address are also listed at Registro.br, the official registry for all Internet sites in Brazil.
NovoJornal remains censored by Aecio NevesEm cima da notícia

Será que não existem coisas mais importantes para o Ministério Público mineiro investigar do que ficar censurando a Internet, a mando do governador, com a desculpa de se tratar de Crime Cibernético?
Em terra de presidenciável, censura-se a oposição como crime cibernéticoRastreadores de Impurezas

Aren't there more important issues for the Public Ministry of Minas to investigate than to censor the Internet, following governor's orders, disguised as an action against Cybercrime?
In the land of a presidential candidate, you censor the opposition as cybercrimeRastreadores de Impurezas


As bloggers were quick to notice
, there are some other things being done in Brazil (see also: “Bloggers question the 13 new cyber-crimes“, “The cost of the cybercrime bill“, “Cybercrime bill is now translated“) disguised as actions against Cybercrime.

Na revista digital NovaE, um longo texto do blogueiro José de Souza Castro, o primeiro a descobrir que o site do Novo Jornal foi tirado do ar por ação da justiça, começa a detalhar o que ocorreu e faz o link entre esse processo e o cerco que começa a se estruturar no Brasil contra a liberdades na rede mundial de computadores:

“O governo de Minas parece que tinha muita pressa para resolver essa questão com o Novo Jornal. Segundo O Tempo, “a Promotoria Estadual de Combate aos Crimes Cibernéticos foi criada em Belo Horizonte em 16 de julho deste ano. Com o crescente número de crimes praticados por usuários da rede, o MPE decidiu pela sua implantação. A promotoria atua como um órgão de suporte aos promotores de Justiça que atuam na área criminal e agiliza o atendimento às vítimas”. E acrescenta, citando uma pessoa identificada como Vanessa Fusco: A estratégia é agir proativamente no enfrentamento desse tipo de crime, que vem crescendo principalmente com a chegada da banda larga às cidades do interior”. E conclui: “Um projeto de autoria do senador Eduardo Azeredo (PSDB) prevê a tipificação da conduta dos crimes praticados na Internet”. (texto da Novae)”

A censura à Internet em Minas Gerais – Em busca da palavra justa

In NovaE digital magazine there is a long article from blogger José de Souza Castro, the first to find out that “NovoJornal” was brought down by a legal action, where he starts to delve deeper in the details, which leads him to link this particular process to the siege that is being engineered in Brazil against Internet liberties [the Cybercrime Bill]:

“The government of Minas Gerais seemed to be in a haste to settle this issue with ‘Novo Jornal’. According to ‘O Tempo’, “the Cybercrime Combat State Prosecutors was created in Belo horizonte on July 16th this year. In face of the rampant number of crimes practiced by network users, the State Public Ministry has decided for its deployment. The Cybercrime Prosecutor acts as a support to justice prosecutors working on the criminal sector, and streamlines attendance to victims.” The newspaper adds, quoting someone identified as Vanessa Fusco: “The strategy is to act pro-actively in confronting this type of crime, which keeps growing mainly with the arrival of broadband to the interior”. And it oncludes: “A project authored by Senator Eduardo Azeredo (PSDB) seeks (or sought) to define and list the criminal acts performed on the Internet” (Novae's text)”

Internet censorship in Minas GeraisEm busca da palavra justa


The ‘NovoJornal's case is also
showing that, despite what the constitution provides on the matter of free speech, ‘anonymity’ may play an important role as a ‘checks and balance’ element in a democratic public space. The video below shows NovoJornal's Director in Charge, Marco Aurélio Carone, answering why the articles on the site have no attribution and are not signed. The interview, made by Camila Vidal and Daniela Nunes, was published on YouTube some weeks before ‘NovoJornal’ was censored.


If you've managed to follow along
this far, you will surely want to watch the video below, made by the Brazilian Daniel Florêncio for Current.TV, and presented as “an investigation into the seemingly increasingly curtailed press in Brazil”. But first, a blogger account to add context:

A reportagem de Florêncio ‘nasceu’ do documentário “Liberdade, essa palavra“, produzido em 2006 pelo então estudante de jornalismo Marcelo Baêta… Tanto o documentário de Baêta quanto a reportagem do Daniel repercutiram na imprensa nacional e internacional (a Folha e o Le Monde publicaram matérias sobre o caso), e geraram respostas incisivas dos partidários de Aécio, que usaram a mesma ferramenta, o YouTube, para a defesa… Depois de ver todos os vídeos relacionados ao caso (veja mais aqui), ficou a pulga atrás da orelha: teriam os jornalistas realmente tirado os seus da reta no caso?
Minas Gerais, a censura e o estado de coisasNaRua.org

Florêncio's report was ‘born’ from the documentary “Liberdade, essa palavra“ (Freedom, this word), produced in 2006 by then journalism student Marcelo Baêta… Both Baêta's documentary and Daniel's report had repercussions in the national and international media (Folha de Sao Paulo and Le Monde published articles on the case), that generated sharp responses from Aécio's partisans, who used the same tool, the YouTube, for defense… After seeing all the case's related videos (see more here), I was puzzled by something: did the journalists really ‘take their asses off the line’ in the case?
Minas Gerais, the censorship and the state of affairsNaRua.org

You may want also to watch the video response to the curren.tv's piece.

The viral spread of Internet participation across the Brazilian population is producing quite a shaking in the established realms of media, politics and courts. But it is exactly this kind of upheaval that generates the discourse necessary to the discovery of balanced protocols for managing the contradictions revealed by the age of information. Stay tuned — this is an ongoing process.

Há um backup do site [NovoJornal] em http://rapidshare.com/files/138763257/novojornal.tar.bz2.html
Comentário de Winston
em Retirado do ar site jornalístico que continha deúncias contra Aécio NevesO Biscoito Fino e a Massa

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