The explosion of Internet use in Latin America means a new set of threats for consumers and the need to address their online safety and rights. In both Brazil and Peru, Internet use increased roughly 30 percent over the past five years. With two bills making their way through national legislatures, Brazil and Peru’s lawmakers could take diametrically opposed steps on Internet freedoms. Brazil’s Congress will soon vote on a bill to protect Internet consumers while Peru evaluates legislation that would change the penal code to include online crimes.
In Brazil, what some dubbed the “world’s first Internet bill of rights” is slowly winding its way through Congress. Called the Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, the bill was due for a vote on September 19, but after a postponement a new vote will take place following the October 7 municipal elections. Using research done through public hearings and online consultations with the public, the bill outlines rights for Internet users, thus providing a legal framework for future laws on Internet-based crimes and copyright infringement. Guilherme Varella, a lawyer from the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection, praised the bill, saying: “[Users will know] that their personal data will be protected, their privacy will not be violated, what they will be free to browse and that they will not see their connection degraded (with a slow speed) without justification.” The law originated in 2009, when the Ministry of Justice’s Secretariat for Legislation and the Getulio Vargas Foundation conducted a study exploring a legal framework for the Internet, asking for input from citizens online.
The bill enjoys support from three of Brazil’s most popular websites, as well as dozens of Brazilian and international civil rights organizations. While Dilma Rousseff’s administration supports the bill, the government wants to ensure new language on net neutrality won’t change. This means the law would ensure Internet service providers and governments cannot restrict users’ access to content, websites, or Internet-based services, nor can they interfere with how consumers use the Internet. If the bill passes, Brazil will become the first South American country to guarantee net neutrality. The bill also protects website owners, saying they are not responsible for user-generated content. However, Brazil’s attorney general wants to change text to ensure the bill fully protects “consumers, children, and teens.”
Peru’s Congress may follow quite a different path—one some say could lead to privacy violations. Last year, it began work on legislation to combat cybercrime, targeting offenses like bank fraud and child pornography. The Computer Crimes Bill, which would alter the country’s penal code, would “essentially eliminate anonymity online, force companies to comply with government requests for user data, and put average Internet users at risk of imprisonment for their online activities,” writes Access Now, a digital watchdog site. One of the bill’s authors, Congressman Juan Carlos Eguren, defended the legislation, saying: “It’s everything that’s opposite to taking away privacy. It’s to protect and punish those who use electronic ways to violate rights, to gain information.”
One of the most controversial parts of the law, Article 23, allows the police to demand personal data—including name, home address, phone number, and IP address—from Internet service providers within a 48-hour period and without a warrant. Unlike Brazil’s Internet bill, legislators created the Peruvian bill without consulting the public. Some critics also say that the crimes listed are vague, such as “informational fraud,” and that jail times seem arbitrary. As a result, the bill was protested in Peru. Over 5,000 people sent letters to Congress. An open letter to legislators from 15 Peruvian and international organizations denounced the bill, saying “the creation of new crimes that are not sufficiently clear and narrowly applied can affect citizens’ constitutional rights to legal due process, privacy, and freedom of expression, among others.”
In other tech news from the hemisphere:
- As a part of a revised penal code, Brazil’s legislature is considering decriminalizing drug possession. House of Representatives President Marco Maia suggested putting the topic up for debate on Congress’ E-Democracia portal, which allows citizens to comment on congressional bills. Users created over 150 threads on the subject since late August.
- Non-profit public-private partnership Reforest Patagonia uses an online platform to plant native-species trees in Chile, reports The Next Web. Using donations from the website that integrates social media and online payments, the organization has planted over 100,000 trees so far.
- During one of Silicon Valley’s biggest startup events last week, more than 100 entrepreneurs from Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico met with mentors and investors in San Francisco. The event followed the September 6 event “Latin America Invades Silicon Valley,” the first San Franisco-based demo day dedicated to Latin American startups.