Yesterday, the Brazilian parliament effectively killed the much-heralded Internet Bill of Rights, the Marco Civil, that had been praised by entrepreneurs and free-speech activists worldwide. This follows a ridiculous watering-down and dumbing-down of the bill, at the request of obsolete industry lobbies. Having been permanently shelved, this means that Brazil has practically killed its chance of leapfrogging other nations’ economies – from my perspective, BRICS is now just RICS.
The Internet Rights bill in Brazil, the Marco Civil, was a marvel. It would have enabled Brazil to leapfrog most other economies today, skipping a whole generation of industries.
The Marco Civil would have established that;
- Internet access is a precondition for exercising citizenship;
- As such, nobody may be cut off from the Internet for any other reason than failure to pay the connection fees;
- The messenger immunity was almost absolute – nobody had any kind of accountability for carrying messages for a third party unless explicitly told so by a judge on a case-by-case basis;
- Net neutrality was written into law;
- All Internet regulation had to be based on preserving openness, participatory culture, and the open entrepreneurship that the Net brings;
- Privacy applies online and must not be violated;
- and much more.
Really, it was that good. Read it for yourself (in English).
It wasn’t all good, however. In exchange for guaranteed civil rights, some other civil rights were taken away. Specifically, the Marco Civil mandated telecommunications data retention for one year – but with some safeguards against access by other than law enforcement in proper procedure. This was a major stain on the bill, but the other parts of it were so overwhelmingly positive that I described it as unique in the world in Brazilian media when I visited this summer.
The Marco Civil would have enabled Brazil’s economy to leapfrog most economies in the West and North, bypassing today’s giants and going straight to the next generation of industries. Enter the lobbyists that didn’t want this: the telco and copyright industry lobbies.
No wonder. In the next generation of industries, the generation that the net enables, there is no telco industry, and there is no copyright industry. Just as the automobile killed the stagecoach industry, and electricity killed the icemaking industry.
What happened next was that the Brazilian government did the crucial mistake of taking these special interests for the public interest. The telco industry lobby was all over the Ministry of Communications, and the copyright industry lobby was all over the Ministry of Culture. The Secretary of Culture, Marta Suplicy, was so insistent on the idea that a notice-and-takedown mechanism must be part of Brazilian law, that she went to the rapporteur and asked to limit the messenger immunity in Marco Civil in order to make ISPs liable for copyright monopoly violations on their wires.
Notice-and-takedown and the requested immunity exception went against everything that Marco Civil stood for. Notice-and-takedown is a mechanism whereby literally millions of notices are sent out weekly to kill free speech, most of them false or automated. This is the mechanism which makes it possible for Greenpeace protest sites to be extrajudicially killed by the oil industry. You’d think Brazil would know better than this. Brazil of all countries.
So, all of a sudden, ISPs were liable for everything in their pipes that could conceivably violate the copyright monopoly or neighboring monopoly rights – and Greenpeace couldn’t have protested the oil company in Brazil.
But the lobbies were not done yet. The telco lobby made sure to kill net neutrality in the bill as well.
With messenger immunity and net neutrality gone, the fertile ground for the next-generation entrepreneurs – those that would cause Brazil’s economy to make the leapfrog jump – was gone. The net’s equalizing effect that enables anybody to compete was gone. The ability for Brazil to compete geopolitically was gone.
The telco industry and the copyright industries don’t want to be leapfrogged, obviously. Therefore, they are understandably trying to kill the net instead, the enabler of their successor industries. The copyright industry and the telco industry both.
But why Brazil would play along is a mystery. It is not in Brazil’s interest at all.
So the Marco Civil had gone from being a bill that guaranteed next-generation industries the fertile ground they needed, and guaranteeing citizens access to public services and freedom of speech, to being a bill that just enabled trackability and further entrenched obsolete industries against the future and their successors. It was a disaster.
It didn’t pass. Marco Civil was shelved indefinitely in yesterday’s voting session, unlikely to be revived ever again.
For shame and FFS, Brazil.
Meanwhile, two cybercrime bills – one of which criminalizes accessing sensitive information online, which is madness – have been passed.
This is a catastrophic screw-up by Brazil. This action alone means that Brazil has disqualified itself as a player for the next generation of geopolitical players unless it gets its shit together and kicks out the telecom and copyright industry lobbies in the street, where they belong, and let those industries die in peace as next-generation industries are allowed to render them irrelevant.
But those next-generation must be politically allowed to render today’s elephants obsolete. That’s what Marco Civil, before the watering down, would have accomplished.