Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use: Brazil at the peak of internet regulation as warrantor of rights

by Digital Rights LAC on November 29, 2014


The last two years will be remembered in the history of the internet as those when disputes over its future surfaced. This comes as no surprise, since these are the years that preceded the maturity of the World Wide Web: in 2014 we celebrate its 25th anniversary.


By Marina Pita*

Although the internet was born and grew faster in North America, it seems that South American countries are the most enthusiastic to defend principles to keep it at the same path during its adulthood”. Brazil, in particular, continues at a prominent position with the approval in April of Law 12.965 — the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), in December 2012, raised the controversy over who should regulate the network. And, at that time, the director of the UN agency pointed out the lack of balance between the investment made by companies operating mostly in the infrastructure layer, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and companies that profit from it, the so-called over-the-top companies. As a word to the wise, it was clear that there was an opening to think of a model in which large online Internet platforms and content producers had to pay for network users to reach them. This decision would severely affect the potential of the Internet to make knowledge, freedom of expression and innovation more democratic.

From that point forward, the debate on the need to maintain the principle of network neutrality increased rapidly and, in Brazil, it was combined to the effort that many civil society organizations and hacktivists have been already making to prevent the creation of internet laws from a perspective of criminalization of illegal acts and violations.

Also in 2007, in opposition to the cybercrimes bill (84/99), which established network vigilantism, the idea of promoting a legislation to regulate the Internet in Brazil that derived from the guarantee of rights emerged as a concept. Such determination found solid foundation to yield good results when, in 2009, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee ( – tripartite organization with members representing civil society, business, and government – approved a resolution with the ten principles for Internet governance and use in Brazil.

They are freedom, privacy and rights; democratic and collaborative governance; universality; diversity; innovation; network neutrality; unaccountability of the network; functionality, security and stability; standardization and interoperability, and legal and regulatory environment.

Under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, the draft bill has received more than two thousand contributions from all sectors of society, with the broad participation of entities in defense of online rights and hacktivists, already mobilized to prevent the passage of the bill criminalizing online activities and electronic vigilantism. From 2011, when the first version of the bill came to the Chamber of Deputies, the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use underwent a new round of consultations. The text was improved through public hearings that heard more than 60 representatives from various sectors, in four of the five regions of the country. The text also went through an online consultation and, for the first time in the history of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, a bill received contributions through Twitter. The rapporteur of the bill, Alessandro Molon (PT-RJ), accepted one of them, which was incorporated into the final text. That is, the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use innovated not only in its set of topics, but showed new possibilities for the Brazilian legislative process and wider popular participation with the internet as a medium.

Upon reaching the Chamber of Deputies, however, the text faced stiff resistance in the Brazilian Congress. The theme was technically too complicated for legislators with little technical knowledge about network operation. Besides, the telecom giants launched a strong lobby to prevent its approval using biased arguments. For giants Telefônica, América Móvil and Teleco Itália, each with its subsidiary in Brazil, the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use would prevent them from creating new business models based on the ability to collect data from users, manage the network to create plans for services and charge content companies and online platforms for the differentiated traffic.

For the civil society around the world facing this strong lobby within its borders, it must be noted that in Brazil, for the first time, the monopoly in broadcasting – so difficult to local political developments – weighed in favor of the interests of civil society. Feeling threatened by the telecoms advancements in content distribution and afraid it will have to start paying for internet users to access its portals, the family business Rede Globo de Televisão, which concentrates 70% of TV advertising in the country, placed its political weight and editorial line in favor of the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use.

It was then, amid pressure from both sides, that the first reports were published in The Washington Post and The Guardian about state surveillance in the United Nations and that would be backed up by big internet corporations. This fact was essential for the tug of war that was established around the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use to start tilting to the side of civil society organizations. The issue of personal data privacy, often neglected in Brazil – the country of friendly people – came to light. Obviously, at this point, much of the Brazilian government was already convinced of the importance of net neutrality, the guarantee of freedom of expression and access to information, the tripod concerning the importance of guarantees for the right to privacy was completed.

The text of the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use is extremely important to enforce neutrality as a principle. Network neutrality ensures that the Internet will remain open so that dissenting voices may express themselves at the cost of the connection and gain relevance from the interest of netizens and not by their economic power. The production of independent online content is gaining ground in Brazil to address the broadcasting oligopoly and media concentration in the hands of conservative families. For the June demonstrations against the rising prices of bus tariffs, online videos were essential to oppose the position of the military police, which arrested several activists and acted with violence against peaceful protesters.

The Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use also ensures that requests for removal of content from the net should only be imposed when there is a court order. This regulation creates a secure legal environment so that content platforms are not coerced into removing material from the net under threats. Brazilian civil society understands that this fact is of great importance because without the mediation of justice, the definition of content withdrawal weighs on economic and political power capacity, with great prejudice to freedom of expression and diversity and plurality of ideas. This regulation has proved to be relevant in the case of the 2014 elections. Some politicians have invested heavily against information disclosure, satires and online critiques, but now they need to pass the scrutiny of Justice. At this point; however, it must be noted that civil society failed to reverse the exception to the notice and take down in the case of copyright content.

In the case of privacy, the text states that private communication is inviolable and operators of telecommunications networks are not allowed to monitor the content accessed by their clients, since they cannot change service provider the same way they change browser or application. In the case of online applications, access and copying of personal data requires express consent from the user, after he has been clearly and comprehensively informed about the collection of such data, and should be deleted if the user terminates his contract with the company.

For Brazil and the entities that strive to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, access to information and privacy, the Civil Rights Framework for Internet Use is a victory that has not been seen in a very long time in the field of communications. However, the law only establishes the rules for the game; now it is up to each of the players to play it so that the regulations provided are actually be implemented.

*of Intervozes