From Brazil to the World: the Marco Civil and Internet Governance

Projections from the Marco Civil Já (Marco Civil Already) collective projected on the São Paulo Museum of Art.

Projections from the collective Marco Civil Já (Marco Civil Now) on the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), in favor of a #InternetLivre (Free Internet) and the #MarcoCivil. Shared on Facebook, October 2013.

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages except when otherwise noted.]

The latest speech [en] given by Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff at the United Nations, with tough criticism of American spying and a proposal for the global development of a new digital policy, was met with great support on the part of international organizations that fight for the rights of citizens online. But in the midst of the euphoria, there were also those that did nto leave skepticism and criticism of the policy unmentioned.

In her speech (PDF) [en], delivered during the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations on September 24, 2013, Rouseff proposed “the establishment of a multilateral ‘bill of rights’ for the governance of the use of the Internet and measures that guarantee the effective protection of information, according to five basic principles:

Liberdade de expressão, privacidade do individuo e respeito aos direitos humanos; Governança democrática, multilateral e aberta; Universalidade que assegura o desenvolvimento social e humano e a construção de sociedades inclusivas e não discriminatórias; Diversidade cultural, sem imposição de crenças, costumes e valores; e neutralidade da rede, ao respeitar apenas critérios técnicos e éticos, tornando inadmissível restrição por motivos políticos, comerciais e religiosos.

Freedom of expression, privacy of the individual, and respect for human rights; Open, multilateral and democratic governance; Universality that ensures the social and human development and the construction of inclusive and non-discriminatory societies; Cultural diversity, without the imposition of beliefs, customs and values; and neutrality of the network, guided only by technical and ethical criteria, rendering it inadmissible to restrict it for political, commercial, or religious purposes.

More than 170 individuals and civil society organizations have signed an open letter [en] in which they express “deep appreciation for [her] serious commitment to social justice and development, of which an open, stable, and reliable Internet is a fundamental pillar”.

The letter praises the “courage” of the speech and stresses the importance of the adoption of Marco Civil, a bill of rights for Internet users currently under debate in Brazil, and declares support for the participatory model in which the bill was drafted.

A brief timeline of the #MarcoCivil

The draft bill began to be developed four years ago, and “aims at consolidating rights, obligations and principles for the use and development of the Internet in Brazil” (, pdf). On September 11, 2013, the President requested urgency in its examination by the House of Representatives, a move that requires the House and Senate to analyze the bill in the next 45 days, so the Marco Civil is expected be finally voted on by the end of October. 

In August 2012, Global Voices Advocacy published an article [en] contextualizing the Marco Civil’s implications, as well as its elaboration. Global Voices also reported back then on how the initiative has split opinions in Brazil [en], even though it promoted an innovative participatory process for the development of a bill of principles that has been looked at internationally with admiration.

By way of illustration of the broadly collaborative, democratic and transparent way how the Marco Civil was elaborated, it can be highlighted that it was open to public consultation between the end of 2009 and about mid-2010. During that period, any Internet user could give his or her opinion on its text, which, in the end, received more than 2,000 direct contributions from different NGOs, government entities, universities, and others. Thanks to this broad social debate, the Marco Civil was presented to the National Congress as a mature as well as technically reliable text, as expert Ronaldo Lemos highlighted in an interview with website A Rede.

Mutilated or perfected?

A total of 34 proposed amendments have been added to the text, now on its way to the plenary assembly.

A prominent figure in the democratization of communications in Brazil, Carlos “C.A.” Afonso [en], considers the ammendments a “mutilation” of the collaborative text of 2012.

According to Bruno Marinoni, writing for the Observatório do Direito à Comunicação (Observatory of the Right to Communication):

Image of the urban intervention by the collective Marco Civil Já denouncing links between the Minister of Telecommunications Paulo Bernardo and the large companies that provide internet service in Brazil.

Image of the urban intervention by the collective Marco Civil Já denouncing links between the Minister of Telecommunications Paulo Bernardo and the large companies that provide Internet service in Brazil.

As polêmicas se concentram [agora] nas questões referentes à manutenção do princípio da “neutralidade de rede”, ao armazenamento dos registros de acesso pelos provedores e à forma de lidar com os direitos autorais.

The polemics are concentrated [now] on issues referring to the maintenance of the principle “net neutrality,” to the storage of access registries by providers and the way to deal with copyrights.

With regards to net neutrality, while some people have introduced amendment proposals that defend traffic shaping – which makes net neutrality more flexible -, others denounce actions of the government “in favor of the interests of large telecommunications conglomerates,” as reported by Renato Rovai and Sergio Amadeu of Revista Fórum.

Activist João Carlos Caribe, who comments on digital policies in Brazil, tweeted:

One thing is certain: In 2014 I won't vote for a politician with a campaign financed by the Teles [telecommunications providers]! Do the same in response to hand overs!

A collaborative documentary project on Net Neutrality, included in the campaign (@freenetfilm), explains the concept behind the guarantee of the free flow of information on the Internet, without the influence or alteration on the part of internet service providers. The video was directed by Naor Elimelech and Gabriel Ranzani with coordination of Joana Varón:

Is the cloud a territory?

The intentions behind Internet service providers storing – whether mandatory or optional – access registries of users have also worried those following the #MarcoCivil movement.

And this fear has doubled with a proposed amendment, supported by President Dilma, that mandates that the storage of data about Brazilians in businesses such as Google and Facebook should be kept physically within national territory [en]. The proposal comes “in the heat of the mass espionage scandal of the United States National Security Agency,” with Dilma's promise that Brazil “will redouble the efforts to adopt legislation, technology, and mechanisms that protect us from the illegal interception of communications and data.”

Mega Sim, a movement that strives to “put forth a positive agenda in Brazilian cultural politics,” reacted:

Understand this: storing data in-country is the Internet dream of China, Iran, and other totalitarian countries, but it is IMPOSSIBLE. #MarcoCivil

Emma Llansó, of the Center for Technology and Democracy, wrote [en]:

These kinds of data localization requirements can function as barriers to the free flow of information online, and would not necessarily keep Brazilians’ data out of the NSA’s hands.

In the works

A demonstration against Internet censorship has been planned through Marco Civil Já‘s Facebook for October 16 in front of Vivo-Telefónica, a major Brazilian telecommunications company in São Paulo. The same group, responsible for the site, launched a demonstration in defense of the three fundamental principles expected from previous versions of the document: net neutrality, privacy, and freedom of expression. 

Everything points toward the Marco Civil being voted on in a few weeks, and in the meantime an “international Marco Civil” is already in the works. The president announced on Twitter that after approval in Congress, she will take the new text to the United Nations, as Murilo Roncolato reported on the blog Estadão:

Pelo Twitter, a presidente Dilma Rousseff afirmou ter enviado um “novo” Marco Civil ao Congresso, sem detalhar se a novidade se refere a um novo texto ou emendas à proposta que corre no Congresso em caráter de urgência. Dilma anunciou ainda que o projeto será votado nas “próximas semanas” e garantiu que enviará o documento à ONU, tornando as diretrizes uma lista de princípios oficial do órgão internacional.

On Twitter, president Dilma Rousseff confirmed having sent a “new” Marco Civil to Congress, without giving details if “new” refers to a new text or amendments to the proposal that is being rushed through Congress urgently. Dilma announced that the project will be voted on in the “coming weeks” and guaranteed that she will send the document to the United Nations, turning the guidelines into an official list of principles of the international organization.

Nathalie Gazzaneo collaborated on writing and translating this post to English.

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