Brazil’s Internet Constitution: The Struggle Continues
Since October 2013, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies’ agenda has been locked up pending a vote on the hotly contested bill known as Marco Civil da Internet (Civil Rights Framework for the Internet), which is commonly referred to as an Internet “constitution”. The most contentious issues are data storage requirements, data privacy, and the principle of net neutrality. The legislation could be an important trendsetter as countries around the world struggle with the inherent friction between territorial legal systems and the borderless Internet.
The initial source of the legislative paralysis was President Dilma Rousseff’s decision to invoke “constitutional urgency” on Marco Civil in September, after revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on Petrobras. Through Brazil’s constitutional urgency process, the legislative chamber taking the bill under consideration has 45 days to vote on it before all other work must be halted, and with Marco Civil, that period expired at the end of October. Numerous competing interests and the centrality of the legislation in structuring Brazil’s Internet framework have made it difficult to forge further consensus.
In response to the NSA spying revelations, in November President Rousseff pushed for the inclusion of a new provisionallowing the executive branch to require companies to store Brazilian user data on servers located in Brazil, arguing that it would protect Brazilian user data privacy. This would give the president the power to decree that tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft ensure that data remains in sovereign Brazilian territory instead of scattered around the globe. But many fear that moves like this could lead to a “splinternet,” or a series of national Internets with differing digital rules and government controls, as countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and India also pursue policies that require local data storage.
Tim Ridout, a wider atlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund for the United States, focuses on political and economic issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly Brazil.