A new draft bill on disinformation (there’s an unofficial english version by CTS/FGV) has been gathering a lot of attention in Brazil. Introduced on April 1st, the “Brazilian Law of Freedom, Liability, and Transparency on the Internet” is an attempt to halt disinformation and viralization of content deemed harmful. Differently than the benchmark Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, this draft bill is under discussion in the middle of a global pandemic, with the Brazilian Congress working with expedited procedures and with very little space for participation from civil society organizations and experts on the matter.
While the initial versions of the text generated concerns from human rights organizations, it presented a more comprehensive and possibly enforceable approach to content moderation rules to social media platforms and messaging apps. However, its latest version veered towards constant monitoring, as well as mass identification and traceability of users on not only messaging apps but all so-called “interpersonal communication systems.”
The latest version of the text was informally issued by Senator Angelo Coronel on Friday evening and is supposedly set to be voted on thursday, June 26th. In a statement regarding its previous version, Electronic Frontier Foundation highlighted the draft bill’s “lack of precision to avoid abusive reporting and interpretations and the creation of criminal offenses, prohibitions, and obligations that hamper legitimate ways of expressing ourselves online and severely expose users’ communications.”. On the same note, Coalizão Direitos na Rede also called attention to what could be one of the worst Internet Bill around the world due to the threats to privacy and freedom of expression it poses.
Some of the main points of concern are the following:
- Expands the bill’s scope to vague definitions, such as interpersonal communication systems, which may include email, dating apps, or any application that allows the exchange of messages between users.
- Deems all internet users as potentially malicious actors, subverting the principle of the presumption of innocence and subjecting them to massive surveillance measures;
- Mandates social media and interpersonal communication systems to collect a valid ID and cell phone numbers for the creation of accounts, if the phone number is not from Brazil users will also be forced to inform the Passport number;
- Demands all internet applications within the scope of the bill to terminate the accounts on the possibility of the user failing to confirm his identity, without any provisions regarding the exchange of numbers or even a period for correction;
- Demands the mass identification and traceability of users on not only messaging apps but all interpersonal communication systems, soliciting internet applications to retain the chain of forwarded communications for four months;
- It mandates the suspension of entire internet applications as a penalty to those who fail to comply with the provisions of the bill, without any valuation about it being proportionate or with an analysis of any possible less intrusive measures which would protect the public interest; and
- Restricts and criminalizes daily practices of end-users in an attempt to curb the malicious use of internet applications, as well as the dissemination of hate speech, with unclear and inaccurate definitions;
The rules used by platforms to moderate content and user activity are designed and applied in a somewhat opaque and unilateral way. In light of that, another concerning point of the draft bill is the lack of transparency and due process provisions for social media and interpersonal communication systems. Increasing transparency in content governance processes is the path to understanding how the dissemination of disinformation works in the country and curb malicious behaviors.
Brazil might end up with a disinformation law at odds with freedom of expression, privacy, and other fundamental rights if the text disclosed last Friday (June 19th) goes to vote next thursday. The proposed text contradicts the main recommendations of human rights experts on the topic. It may result in a more concentrated internet environment, restrictions on access to information, and freedom of expression for a large part of the population and private censorship.
Lastly, Brazilian Senators and Parliamentarians need to consider the 2017’s Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News,” Disinformation and Propaganda, and other international recommendations on the topic. Instead of promoting a regulation that sets penalties to users based on vague and ambiguous ideas at the risk of revoking fundamental human rights for all Internet users in the country. Additionally, enabling an environment for Freedom of Expression through the promotion of rights and democratic values should be the primary goal for any regulatory attempt in the country.