Brazil Squanders Chance At Geopolitical Influence; Kills Internet Rights Bill In Political Fiasco

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.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Brazilian citizen

    just a detail, those coin in the picture are form old currencies, that are not valid anymore.

    About the bill of rights, it was really shameful the way the lobbies acted against the bill, spreading all kind of disinformation about its content. Somne MPs said, for esxample, tht nbet neutrality would prevent ISPs to sell different plans with different speeds of connection, or that the bill would make criminal investigations almost impossible. It is essential to spread the truth, and expose those ones who hide their real interests behind so ridiculous lies

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Thanks, I don’t want the article to feel outdated. I changed the image from a Brazilian flag with coins on it to the current one showing Brazil (and most of South America) on a stylized globe.

      As for the misinformation, that’s just sad.


  2. Marcelo Thompson

    Thanks for the note, Rick. May I just add some observations? I trust it is important to point out that, even before being watered down, the Bill already served a remarkably influential special interest group — that of online service providers, like Google and Facebook.

    The virtually absolute immunity you mention was not only for “messengers” but also for “publishers” — for online service providers that knowingly host content that violates human rights (e.g. privacy infringement, cyber-bullying, homophobia) and, even knowning they do so, do nothing to remedy the situation (more about that here and here ).

    The Bill, in other words, fostered the irresponsibility of companies like Google and Facebook in their complicity with human rights violations.

    It was that bad. And it was so because such companies (or rather Google), not the Telcos which everyone is now attacking, dominated the backstages of the debate, nominating people for high offices in the Brazilian government, golden-sponsoring high profile international events ran by people ahead of the process, and much more. It was an all too close and all too silent proximity that the future is bound to shed some lights on.

    Parliamentarians were aware of all that. They were aware of the remarkable imbalance of forces between online service providers (which can do anything) and Internet access providers (which can do nothing). And they were aware of the reasons for such an imbalance.

    Were they just being corrupt? All those parties? Or was it rather the case that the small but highly influential circle of opinion makers ahead of the process is to take some blame not only for what has happened to the Bill, but also for what could have happened if their political bets — on whom to associate themselves with — had turned out to be correct?

    I was very much in favour of the Bill before it was changed to benefit online service providers. There is so much in it that is, indeed, excellent. And I had hopes, until the last minute, that colleagues would change course to do the right thing. It is a pity that they have stuck to their guns — and shoot all of us on the foot.

    RIP Marco Civil.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      “Human rights violations of Google”…?

      Google is a bloody phonebook. It tells you where you can find things. Nothing less, nothing more. Phonebooks do not commit human rights violations; they are conceptually incapable of doing so.

      Facebook is a bloody public billboard where people leave messages to one another. While the company has done some seriously questionable things on users’ privacy, bullying and homophobia are not among the things that Facebook have done. The credit for that would go to ordinary human beings who use the equivalent of pen and paper, possibly with the Facebook logo on it, but that’s just as irrelevant as if the logo had been Bic, Sharpie, or Mont Blanc.

      If an industry’s business is being threatened by the concept of a phonebook, or by the concept of a pen and a public billboard, it is definitely in the public interest to shut those industries down. Yes, telco and copyright industries, I’m looking at you.

      1. Marcelo Thompson

        When you *know* you host something, for the world to see, which violates human rights and you do *nothing* about that, you are indeed violating human rights.

        All of us, online service providers included, have our share of responsibility on the Internet. This as much a legal issue (recognized in the exceptions to the safe harbour provisions of the e-Commerce Directive and in jurisprudence worldwide) as it is a moral issue, of a duty of care that we hold towards each other.

        I do hope Youtube does not become a *bloody* phonebook. I would rather read a more humaine one.

        In an earlier post about Marco Civil (link above), I noted: “To disable the victim, especially in a country of continental dimensions and stark socioeconomic inequalities such as Brazil, to demand that her rights be protected by the online service provider, is absolutely demeaning.

        Imagine for a person in the northern part of Brazil — say, a low income person in the city of Oiapoque — to make a court order be issued to an online service provider in São Paulo. Whatever right the person had is now gone.

        But the argument goes further. It is not only about the amount of time it takes for content to be removed. It is also about a shared moral responsibility that all of us hold — online service providers inclusively — for the preservation of rights, in particular fundamental rights, in our societies. It is about the rule of law. And it is about democracy”.

        This is indeed an issue of democracy. It is about the equality of all of us before the law, from which our common duties of care and respect towards each other, from a legal standpoint, ensue. Online service providers are not creatures from a different legal universe or one devoid of ethics.

        Under your argument, there would be nothing wrong if Youtube suddenly found normal to host (user generated) child pornography — and if it knowingly did so. It would be an even bloodier phonebook. Is that OK in your rulebook?

        If it is not OK, why do you treat Child Pornography differently from, say, privacy infringement or cyber-bullying? Is there such a hierarchy in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights or in the Convention on the Rights of the Child — where only Child Pornography should be prevented? Is the Private Party planning to introduce such a hierarchy?

        1. Rick Falkvinge

          What you’re arguing for is censorship. And no, I am not okay with that in any way, shape, or form.

          [QUOTING] “When you *know* you host something, for the world to see, which violates human rights and you do *nothing* about that, you are indeed violating human rights.”

          And no, this assertion is not true from neither a legal, nor a philosophical, nor a moral standpoint. Human rights, as defined by the European Convention on Human rights and similar documents, can never be violated by hosting information – any kind of information. You’re not violating human rights because you own a billboard for others to use. Such rights can be violated by publishing information, but that’s a completely different type of action.

          What you are arguing for is governmental intervention in-between two consenting parties who want to communicate something between them. That’s the textbook definition of censorship.

          And no, I am not okay with censorship of child abuse imagery either. You’ll find the reasons why in the two most popular articles on this site, under the “Popular articles” heading to the right.

          In this, I side completely with the actual victims of child abuse, who don’t want censorship either (see the MOGiS child abuse survivor group, for instance). The people who argue for such censorship (and again, I use that word in its textbook definition) frequently have ulterior motives, like the copyright industry’s motives for pushing for such censorship with the thought of later expanding it to censoring anything they don’t like being transmitted. (I’m not making this up.)

          So you can’t use that battering ram against me (“since censorship of child abuse imagery is okay because you can’t possibly defend against that card, censorship of anything else objectionable must also be okay”); I am not okay with censorship, period.

          As for bringing up Google into this originally and pointing fingers at them – I can hardly see how they would be a problem in this regard. They remove anything hosted that’s even remotely objectionable from YouTube; there’s not even a need for governmentally-regulated censorship there. As for Facebook, they ban entire social pages and profiles as soon as you post a photo with the slightest bit of skin on it, so they’re more of a problem in the exact opposite way…


        2. Marcelo Thompson

          Is the *Pirate* Party planning to introduce such a hierarchy?

          On another note, my point was also about the procedural issues, of the lobbying you criticize in your original post. My remark was that this has come from many directions, not only from the Telcos or the Copyright industry you criticize. What Google has been doing (worldwide) in this regard is not more laudable just because it is being done by Google.

  3. Zacqary Adam Green

    How much better arr Russia, India, China, and South Africa, really? Russia and China both seem wholly unconcerned with a free Internet, India’s got a strong copyright industry in Bollywood, and South Africa…well, they have Mark Shuttleworth, but otherwise they haven’t taken many steps in the right direction as far as I know.

    On the other hand, doesn’t Serbia have a rapidly rising HDI and, like, no copyright law at all?

  4. […] Confira o texto na íntegra, em inglês, aqui. […]

  5. Ano Nymous

    What does ‘geopolitical’ refer to in this context? It seems that you mean something like “wealth and position to trade internationally”. My understanding was that geopolitics was a fuzzy term for oil and other natural resources, strategic position, and wars and other unpleasentnesses about these things. I tried to look it up on Wikipedia, and there it approximately says that it is the science about politics and geography when combined.

    BTW, I have been sending emails and not receiving any answers in a while. Is it just lack of time, or is there a technical problem somewhere?

  6. […] Confira o texto na íntegra, em inglês, aqui. […]

  7. sbog

    I saw your presentation at FISL 13. It was good, but I remember thinking you were being too optimistic about brazilian politicians. Though there has been a slow renewal over the years, I believe still many of them have either been around for too long, or “inherited” the chair. As for the cybercrime bills, it was not such a loss, simply because everyone was expecting those to be actually *worse*, one of them got so much criticism over the years that only a small part of it made it to the final version. cya

  8. […] Lob­bies killed Brazil’s bill to estab­lish impor­tant rights for Inter­net users. […]

  9. […] means that Brazil has practically killed its chance of leapfrogging other nations’ economies”, said Falkvinge on his […]

  10. […] Brazil Squanders Chance At Geopolitical Influence; Kills Internet Rights Bill In Political Fiasco […]

  11. […] IPR industry apparently owns Brazil. Their much-vaunted Internet Bill of Rights, the Marco Civil, has been canceled due to pressure from the telco and copyright industry […]

  12. SasoM

    Brazil (1985) all over again….sigh

Comments are closed.