Obstacles to Access: 5 (0–25)
Limits on Content: 8 (0–35)
Violations of User Rights: 13 (0–40)
Total Score: 26 (0–100)
For a country with large social disparities, Brazil has made significant gains in expanding internet access and mobile-phone usage in recent years. It is home to the largest population of internet users in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world.1 The country first connected to the internet in 1990,2 and connectivity is now available in most areas through a variety of technologies, though some infrastructural limitations remain. While internet use has been mostly unrestricted in the past, several legal actions threatened free online expression in 2007 and 2008, including court decisions leading to censorship of reporting that was critical of politicians, a ban on political campaigning on the Orkut social-networking platform, and proposed cybercrime legislation.
Obstacles to Access
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Brazil had 68 million internet users as of December 2008, accounting for 35.2 percent of the population. A lack of infrastructure affects large segments of users, mainly in rural areas, and is the primary barrier to internet connectivity. Nevertheless, great improvements have been made in recent years as the government has initiated dozens of programs to connect the population to the internet, including investment in WiMax Networks and Digital Cities projects.3 Many of these projects employ broadband technology, which is accessible to a majority of users. The internet is used by people at various socio-economic levels,4 and the country’s e-commerce, e-government, and online-banking services are among the most developed in the world.5 However, due to persistent poverty, internet access remains out of reach for large portions of the population.
Six companies share the majority of the mobile-phone market, and penetration is increasing rapidly. Statistics show an average annual increase of 20 percent over the last five years and approximately 151 million mobile phones as of November 2008.6
While there have been no major cases of internet blocking by the executive branch, there were several incidents during the coverage period in which the judiciary interfered with access to certain online applications. In 2007, a judge ordered the removal of a video clip showing the private acts of a model and her boyfriend after the woman sued the YouTube video-sharing site.7 YouTube attempted to comply, but users constantly reposted the offending video. The judge then requested that Brazilian internet service providers (ISPs) block the entire site. As a result, YouTube was inaccessible in Brazil for several days in January 2007. The decision was eventually reversed.8
Though they are generally accessible, Google’s social-networking site Orkut and the blog service Wordpress have also been temporarily blocked following orders by the Brazilian judiciary and police. Such incidents have arisen in cases related to pedophilia, hate speech, and racist, homophobic, or defamatory material. Brazilian ISPs apparently lack the technical knowledge or software needed to block a single URL and are therefore forced to limit access to an entire site to comply with government requests. In some cases, however, alternative agreements have been reached between the judiciary and ISP companies to restrict access to the content in question.9
Despite an intricate regulatory environment, there are no specific legal or economic obstacles preventing the operation of diverse businesses that provide access to digital technologies. As a consequence of privatization plans implemented in the 1990s, however, the telecommunications market in general, and the ISP market in particular, tend toward concentration. More than 1,000 ISPs now operate in the country, according to the Brazilian Association of ISPs (ABRANET). However, the four largest companies—Terra, UOL, IG, and Yahoo!—hold more than 50 percent of the market. Broadband access is increasing as prices fall,10 but it is also concentrated among telecommunications and cable companies.11
The telecommunications regulatory body, ANATEL, and the antitrust body, CADE, work to ensure that information and communication technologies (ICTs) operate in a free, fair, and independent manner, under the rule of law. These federal bodies have an interagency cooperation agreement defining concurrent competencies, and CADE is authorized by the General Telecommunications Law to have the final word when dealing with antitrust issues, such as market concentration and price setting.12 In a pioneering initiative, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br), a multi-stakeholder organization, was created in 1995 to guarantee transparency and social participation in issues related to internet governance.13 Representatives from the government, the private sector, academia, and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) community sit as members, with the latter chosen since 2004 in relatively democratic and open elections.
Limits on Content
The government does not employ any technical methods to filter or otherwise limit access to online content. Nonetheless, legal action by the judiciary and government officials has emerged in recent years as a barrier to free speech and a means of removing content that is deemed undesirable. In December 2007, a court in the southern city of Porto Alegre forced journalist Vitor Vieira to withdraw content from an internet site that implicated a state representative.14 In October 2008, an injunction was ordered against the Folha Online website, requiring it to remove a corruption-related report on Workers’ Party candidate Luiz Marinho’s alleged visit to a nightclub on automaker Volkswagen’s tab.15 In another incident in 2008, the opposition online journal NovoJornal, known for its criticism of Minas Gerais state governor Aecio Neves, was taken down by the authorities. They cited charges of posting anonymously, contrary to constitutional provisions that forbid anonymity; however, the website’s director had reportedly registered the publication under his name as required by law.16
In a move that was seen as having a negative impact on the democratic process, restrictions were placed on the use of online applications for political campaigning during the 2008 elections. Resolution 22718, passed in March 2008 by the Superior Electoral Tribunal, determined that electoral campaigns and advertisements could only be posted on the candidates’ web pages. It barred electoral campaigns from using such tools as Orkut, YouTube, e-mail, and SMS to circulate their political messages.17 At least one case was reported in which a candidate in local elections was forced to close her Orkut account and suspend YouTube videos promoting her candidacy.18 The regulations also prohibited campaigns from buying advertising space on the internet. ISPs reportedly tried to overcome this resolution but were unsuccessful. In a related case, in July 2008 the Rio de Janeiro Regional Electoral Court demanded that bloggers delete banners they had displayed on their sites to support mayoral candidate Fernando Gabeira. After a public outcry, however, the judge reversed the decision the following day, reinforcing the interpretation that the regulations applied to campaigning by candidates themselves, rather than their supporters.19
There are generally no limitations on national or international news sources, and individuals are able to use the internet, mobile technology, and other ICTs as sources of information.20 Blogs, photo-blogs, social-networking platforms, and citizen journalism have proliferated in recent years.21 Over 80 percent of adult internet users visited social-networking sites in 2008, one of the highest such rates in the world.22 While more and more Brazilians are using Facebook, Orkut remains the most popular of these platforms. Academic institutions have also begun using the internet to share information, presenting the results of scientific and academic research in online formats, adopting open-access strategies for many leading journals, and publishing public universities’ theses and monographs. Another recent phenomenon has been the growing number of blogs written by policemen with the apparent intention of increasing transparency and building trust among the public.
The internet is widely used for social mobilization and campaigns. Examples include the Open and Free software movements, the AIDS and Access to Knowledge movement, and the gay rights movement. In addition, mobile phones have become a major tool for organizing events like the annual gay parade in Sao Paulo, as well as a means for distributing images related to violence in the country’s streets. The internet has especially been used by the blogging community and others as a vehicle for protesting government policies and judicial decisions that are perceived as threats to online expression. Thousands of internet users launched an e-mail protest against the ban on YouTube, and a “No to the Ban” blog was created in response to concerns that the country’s main blog-hosting platform, Wordpress, would be blocked by the courts.23 An online petition in defense of free speech and against the proposed cybercrimes bill garnered 58,000 signatures in its first week.24
Violations of Users’ Rights
While free speech is protected in the constitution, contradictory provisions and several legal rulings in favor of censorship during the coverage period have raised concerns that challenges to free expression affecting the traditional media may also be applied to online content. The constitution and federal law preserve freedom of speech as well as cultural and religious expression. Specific laws also establish freedom of the press. However, some legislation limits aspects of these rights, and the constitution outlines a particularly complex legal framework, especially regarding online speech.25 For example, free expression of thought is assured and anonymity is formally forbidden in the same paragraph.26
Civil and administrative charges against ISPs, online news journals, and some bloggers have become regular occurrences in the judicial system in recent years.27 In addition to the cases mentioned above, Google Brazil and some of its services, such as Orkut and YouTube, have been the target of numerous judicial demands. In one incident, Google was required to take down Orkut communities that were seen as offensive to Edir Macedo, an evangelical minister.28 Actress Preta Gil sued the company for linking her with the term “fat actress,” and in another case Google Brazil was ordered to compensate a woman after she was called a “deadbeat” on Orkut. The popular networking site has also been penalized for allowing fake profiles; a lawyer from Santa Catarina state was arrested for using such a profile. The authorities have threatened in the past to block access to the Wordpress blogging site, a result of their inability to censor specific web addresses.29
Individual bloggers have also faced lawsuits by politicians. More than 25 defamation suits have been brought against blogger Alcinea Cavalcanti, the majority of them initiated by Senator Jose Sarney, who felt personally offended by the content of several postings.30 Such official use of the courts to silence critics was discussed during a recent public hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States (OAS). The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) called on the commission to review the laws and judicial practices that violate freedom of expression in Brazil; any ruling on the issue by the commission would affect both traditional and online media.31
An ongoing concern for freedom of expression advocates in the country has been the cybercrimes bill,32 which was first introduced in 2006 by Senator Eduardo Azeredo.33 Following pressure from the public, certain provisions that were included in the initial version, such as requirements for user registration, have reportedly been dropped. Nevertheless, the bill in its current form would still restrict technologies like open wi-fi networks and oblige ISPs to record user information and keep it for three years. It also allows providers to check for copyright infringements in data sent via peer-to-peer connections, along with other threats to users’ right to privacy.34 Ronaldo Lemos, director of the Center for Technology & Society at the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) Law School, has raised concerns over the text’s vagueness, its unpredictable consequences, and the possibility that if it is passed, users could be criminally liable for trivial actions conducted over the internet and punishable with prison terms as long as four years.35 In July 2008 the Senate passed the bill, which then went to the House of Representatives, where it remained at year’s end.
Surveillance of internet activities is not a significant concern in Brazil. Specific laws allow for surveillance, but only when authorized by judicial orders under due process. Nevertheless, surveillance of telephones, including mobile phones, has reportedly been used more extensively in recent years. In 2007, the number of wiretaps was estimated at between 300,000 and 409,000, and most were apparently carried out without a judicial order.36 In addition, the Federal Police and a private software company developed a wiretapping system called Guardião (Guardian). This system was criticized after the disclosure of some of its capabilities, such as the remote and automated monitoring of up to 3,000 telephone lines, whether fixed and mobile.37
While traditional media workers are often victims of violence and death threats in Brazil, such attacks have yet to extend significantly to online journalists, bloggers, and commentators.38 Nonetheless, bloggers who report on police corruption and related issues are targeted from time to time, and the overall environment of intimidation contributes to self-censorship among them. Average users express themselves quite freely.
2 “Hobbes’ Internet Timeline v8.2”, Zakon Group LLC, http://www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline/ accessed on March 26, 2009, and The Brazilian Green Book on the Information Society that brings the national backbone map: http://www.mct.gov.br/index.php/content/view/18878.html accessed om March 26, 2009 and http://www.rnp.br/backbone/index.php accessed on March 26, 2009
3 “Neovia and Redline initiate US$30 million WiMAX network in Brazil”, WiMAX Industry, August 2, 2007, http://www.wimax-industry.com/pr/7p.htm accessed on March 26, 2009; and http://www.teleco.com.br/cidadesdigitais.asp accessed on March 26, 2009
4 “In Brazil, Internet Access Grows Rapidly, Even Among Poor”, World Politics Review, April 3, 2008, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=1891 accessed on March 26, 2009
5 “Brazil-Internet and Broadband Market”, Research and Markets, December 2008, http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reportinfo.asp?report_id=680153 accessed on March 26, 2009
7 “YouTube Does Brazil”, OpenNet Initiative, January 10, 2007, http://opennet.net/blog/2007/01/youtube-does-brazil, accessed on March 26, 2009
8 http://idgnow.uol.com.br/internet/2007/01/09/idgnoticia.2007-01-09.9436244203/IDGNoticia_view accessed on March 26, 2009 ; and “Brazil court revises ban on YouTube over sex video”, Reuters, January 9, 2007 http://www.reuters.com/article/internetNews/idUSN0948365620070109 accessed on March 26, 2009
“YouTube wins Cicarelli (Brazilian model beach sex video) case”, Boing Boing, June 27, 2007, http://www.boingboing.net/2007/06/27/youtube-wins-cicarel.html accessed on March 26, 2009
9 “Brazil court orders ISPs to block access to Wordpress blog”, OpenNet Initiative, April 10, 2008, http://opennet.net/blog/2008/04/brazil-court-orders-isps-block-access-wordpress-blog access on March 26, 2009
10 “Broadband in Brazil Exceeds 8.1 Million Connections”, Cisco, March 5, 2008, http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2008/prod_030508b.html accessed on March 26, 2009
12 “Reforms in Brazilian Telecommunications Regulations and their Impact on Sector Competition”, Global Competition Review, http://www.globalcompetitionreview.com/reviews/9/sections/31/chapters/361/reforms-brazilian-telecommunications-regulations-impact-sector-competition accessed on March 26, 2009 and “Legislation Documents of the Telecommunications in Brazil”, Telesco, http://www.teleco.com.br/en/en_legis.asp accessed on March 26, 2009
14 Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 Brazil country report
16 “Brazil: Inventive censorship, and the case for anonymity”, Global Vocies, September 7, 2008,http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/09/07/brazil-inventive-censorship-and-the-case-for-anonymity/ accessed on March 26, 2009
17“Brazil: Blogs banned from the 2008 elections”,Global Voices, March 30, 2008, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/03/30/brazil-blogs-banned-from-the-2008-elections/ accessed on March 26, 2009 and http://www.tse.gov.br/internet/index.html Accessed on March 26, 2009 and “Orkut Brazil warns users against political showdown regarding upcoming elections”, Orkut Plus, September 14, 2008, http://www.orkutplus.net/2008/09/orkut-brazil-warns-users-against-political-showdown-regarding-upcoming-elections.html accessed on March 26, 2009
18 “Brazil: Electoral censorship at work”, Global Voices, July 22, 2009, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/07/22/brazil-electoral-censorship-at-work/ accessed on March 26, 2009
19 “Brazil: First blog falls victim to electoral law”, Global Voices, June 1, 2008, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/06/01/brazil-first-blog-falls-victim-to-electoral-law accessed on March 26, 2009
20 Brazil National Online Newspapers eNews Reference, http://www.enewsreference.com/newspaper/brazina.htm accessed on March 26, 2009
21 (Some top ranked Brazilian blogs can be seen here) http://colunistas.ig.com.br/metablog/2008/05/05/os-blogs-mais-acessados-do-brasil Accessed on March 26, 2009; and http://www.interney.net/?p=9760065 accessed on March 26, 2009; and “Eighty Five Percent of Brazilian Internet Users Visited a Social Networking Site in September 2008”, ComScore, November 19, 2008, http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=2592 accessed on March 26, 2009
22 “Eighty Five Percent of Brazilian Internet Users Visited a Social Networking Site in September 2008”, http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=2592 accessed on March 26, 2009
23“Brazil: Bloggers united against Wordpress ban”, Global Voices, April 12, 2008, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/04/12/brazil-bloggers-united-against-wordpress-ban accessed on March 26, 2009
24 http://www.petitiononline.com/veto2008/petition.html Accessed on March 26, 2009;and “Brazil: Bloggers question the 13 new cyber-crimes”, Global Voices, July 17, 2008, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/07/17/brazil-bloggers-question-the-13-new-cyber-crimes/ accessed on March 26, 2009
25 “Constitution of Brazil”, Brazil Information, http://www.v-brazil.com/government/laws/constitution.html Accessed on March 26, 2009
26 “Brazil: Inventive censorship, and the case for anonymity”, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/09/07/brazil-inventive-censorship-and-the-case-for-anonymity accessed on March 26, 2009
27For more information see:http://globalvoicesonline.org/found/?cof=FORID%3A9&q=Brazil+and+Internet+Freedom&btnG=Search+%C2%BB&cx=000932313665553177304%3Adg67ra11mvs#1039 accessed on March 26, 2009
29 “Brazil: Bloggers united against Wordpress ban”, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/04/12/brazil-bloggers-united-against-wordpress-ban accessed on 3/19/2009
30 FotP Brazil (2008)
31 “Press release on OAS hearing”, ABRAJI, November 11, 2008, http://www.abraji.org.br/?id=90&id_noticia=612 ; and http://knightcenter.utexas.edu/site_search.php?keyword=Brazil accessed on March 26, 2009
32 “Censura Não!: Brazilian Bloggers Protest New Cybercrime Bill”, OpenNet Initiative, July 25, 2008, http://opennet.net/blog/2008/07/censura-n%C3%A3o-brazilian-bloggers-protest-new-cybercrime-bill ; and “Legislators urged to oppose cyber-crime bill likely to threaten online free expression”, Reporters Without Borders, July 23, 2008, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27917 accessed on March 26, 2009
33 “Brazil: Bloggers question the 13 new cyber-crimes”,http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/07/17/brazil-bloggers-question-the-13-new-cyber-crimes/ accessed on March 26, 2009; and “Brazilian Cybercrime bill needs more transparency”, Safernet Brasil, June 17, 2007, http://www.safernet.org.br/site/noticias/brazilian-cybercrime-bill-needs-more-transparency accessed on March 26, 2009
34 “Access versus surveillance: Brazilian cybercrime law project” , iCommons, November 5, 2008, http://icommons.org/articles/access-versus-surveillance-brazilian-cybercrime-law-project accessed on March 26, 2009
36 http://www.conjur.com.br/static/text/60835,1 accessed on March 26, 2009; and http://www.fecomercio.com.br/pagina.php?tipo=21&pg=675 accessed on March 26, 2009
37http://www2.oabsp.org.br/asp/jornal/materias.asp?edicao=113&pagina=3117&tds=7&sub=0&sub2=0&pgNovo=67 accessed on March 26, 2009
38 FotP Brazil (2008).