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Marco Civil da Internet: Brazil’s ‘Internet Constitution’

On March 25, 2014, Brazil's lower house of parliament passed bill no. 2126/2011, popularly known as Marco Civil da Internet. The Marco Civil is a charter of Internet user-rights and service provider responsibilities, committed to freedom of speech and expression, privacy, and accessibility and openness of the Internet. In this post, the author looks at the pros and cons of the bill.

Introduction:

Ten months ago, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the U.S. National Security Agency’s extensive, warrantless spying dawned on us. Citizens and presidents alike expressed their outrage at this sweeping violation of their privacy. While India’s position remained carefully neutral, or indeed, supportive of NSA’s surveillance, Germany, France and Brazil cut the U.S. no slack. Indeed, at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (whose office the NSA had placed under surveillance) stated, “Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of International Law and is an affront to the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations.” Brazil, she said, would “redouble its efforts to adopt legislation, technologies and mechanisms to protect us from the illegal interception of communications and data.
Some may say that Brazil has lived up to its word. Later this month, Brazil will be host to NETmundial, the Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, jointly organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and the organization /1Net. The elephantine invisible presence of Snowden vests NETmundial with the hope and responsibility of laying the ground for a truly multi-stakeholder model for governing various aspects of the Internet; a model where governments are an integral part, but not the only decision-makers. The global Internet community, comprising users, corporations, governments, the technical community, and NGOs and think-tanks, is hoping devise a workable method to divest the U.S. Government of its de facto control over the Internet, which it wields through its contracts to manage the domain name system and the root zone.
But as Internet governance expert Dr. Jeremy Malcolm put it, these technical aspects do not make or break the Internet. The real questions in Internet governance underpin the rights of users, corporations and netizens worldwide. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, when he called for an Internet Bill of Rights, meant much the same. For Sir Tim, an open, neutral Internet is imperative if we are to keep our governments open, and foster “good democracy, healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture”. Some countries agree. The Philippines envisaged a Magna Carta for Internet Freedom, though the Bill is pending in the Philippine parliament.

Marco Civil da Internet:

Last week, on March 25, 2014, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of parliament) passed the Marco Civil da Internet, bill 2126/2011, a charter of Internet rights. The Marco Civil is considered by the global Internet community as a one-of-a-kind bill, with Sir Tim Berners-Lee hailing the “groundbreaking, inclusive and participatory process has resulted in a policy that balances the rights and responsibilities of the individuals, governments and corporations who use the Internet”.
The Marco Civil’s journey began with a two-stage public consultation process in October 2009, under the aegis of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice’s Department of Legislative Affairs, jointly with the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s Center for Technology and Society of the Law School of Rio de Janeiro (CTS-FGV). The collaborative process involved a 45-day consultation process in which over 800 comments were received, following which a second consultation in May 2010 received over 1200 comments from individuals, civil society organizations and corporations involved in the telecom and technology industries. Based on comments, the initial draft of the bill was revamped to include issues of popular, public importance, such as intermediary liability and online freedom of speech.
An official English translation of the Marco Civil is as yet unavailable. But an unofficial translation (please note that the file is uploaded on Google Drive), triangulated against online commentary on the bill, reveals that the following issues were of primary importance:

The fundamentals:

The fundamental principles of the Marco Civil reveal a commitment to openness, accessibility neutrality and democratic collaboration on the Internet. Art. 2 (see unofficial translation) sets out the fundamental principles that form the basis of the law. It pledges to adhere to freedom of speech and expression, along with an acknowledgement of the global scale of the network, its openness and collaborative nature, its plurality and diversity. It aims to foster free enterprise and competition on the Internet, while ensuring consumer protection and upholding human rights, personality development and citizenship exercise in the digital media in line with the network’s social purposes. Not only this, but Art. 4 of the bill pledges to promote universal access to the Internet, as well as “to information, knowledge and participation in cultural life and public affairs”. It aims to promote innovation and open technology standards, while ensuring interoperability.
The Marco Civil expands on its commitment to human rights and accessibility by laying down a “discipline of Internet use in Brazil”. Art. 3 of the bill guarantees freedom of expression, communication and expression of thoughts, under the terms of the Federal Constitution of Brazil, while at the same time guaranteeing privacy and protection of personal data, and preserving network neutrality. It also focuses on preserving network stability and security, by emphasizing accountability and adopting “technical measures consistent with international standards and by encouraging the implementation of best practices”.
These principles, however, are buttressed by rights assured to Internet users and responsibilities of and exceptions provided to service providers.

Rights and responsibilities of users and service providers:

Net neutrality:
Brazil becomes one of the few countries in the world (joining the likes of the Netherlands, Chile and Israel in part) to preserve network neutrality by legislation. Art. 9 of the Marco Civil requires all Internet providers to “to treat any data package with isonomy, regardless of content, origin and destination, service, terminal or application”. Not only this, but Internet providers are enjoined from blocking, monitoring or filtering content during any stage of transmission or routing of data. Deep packet inspection is also forbidden. Exceptions may be made to discriminate among network traffic only on the basis of essential technical requirements for services-provision, and for emergency services prioritization. Even this requires the Internet provider to inform users in advance of such traffic discrimination, and to act proportionately, transparently and with equal protection.
Data retention, privacy and data protection:
The Marco Civil includes provisions for the retention of personal data and communications by service providers, and access to the same by law enforcement authorities. However, record, retention and access to Internet connection records and applications access-logs, as well as any personal data and communication, are required to meet the standards for “the conservation of intimacy, private life, honor and image of the parties directly or indirectly involved” (Art. 10). Specifically, access to identifying information and contents of personal communication may be obtained only upon judicial authorization.
Moreover, where data is collected within Brazilian territory, processes of collection, storage, custody and treatment of the abovementioned data are required to comply with Brazilian laws, especially the right to privacy and confidentiality of personal data and private communications and records (Art. 11). Interestingly, this compliance requirement is applicable also to entities incorporated in foreign jurisdictions, which offer services to Brazilians, or where a subsidiary or associate entity of the corporation in question has establishments in Brazil. While this is undoubtedly a laudable protection for Brazilians or service providers located in Brazil, it is possible that conflicts may arise (with penal consequences) between standards and terms of data retention and access by authorities in other jurisdictions. In the predictable absence of harmonization of such laws, perhaps rules of conflicts of law may prove helpful.
While data retention remained a point of contention (Brazil initially sought to ensure a 5-year data retention period), under the Marco Civil, Internet providers are required to retain connection records for 1 year under rules of strict confidentiality; this responsibility cannot be delegated to third parties (Art. 13). Providers providing the Internet connection (such as Reliance or Airtel in India) are forbidden from retaining records of access to applications on the Internet (Art. 14). While law enforcement authorities may request a longer retention period, a court order (filed for by the authority within 60 days from the date of such request) is required to access the records themselves. In the event the authority fails to file for such court order within the stipulated period, or if court order is denied, the service provider must protect the confidentiality of the connection records.

Though initially excluded from the Marco Civil, the current draft passed by the Chamber of Deputies requires Internet application providers (such as Google or Facebook) to retain access-logs for their applications for 6 months (Art. 15). Logs for other applications may not be retained without previous consent of the owner, and in any case, the provider cannot retain personal data that is in excess of the purpose for which consent was given by the owner. As for connection records, law enforcement authorities may request a greater retention period, but require a court order to access the data itself.
These requirements must be understood in light of the rights that the Marco Civil guarantees to users. Art. 7, which enumerates these user-rights, does not however set forth their content; this is probably left to judicial interpretation of rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution. In any event, Art. 7 guarantees to all Internet users the “inviolability of intimacy and privacy”, including the confidentiality of all Internet communications, along with “compensation for material or moral damages resulting from violation”. In this regard, it assures that users are entitled to a guarantee that no personal data or communication shall be shared with third parties in the absence of express consent, and to “clear and complete information on the collection, use, storage, treatment and protection of their personal data”. Indeed, where contracts violate the requirements of inviolability and secrecy of private communications, or where a dispute resolution clause does not permit the user to approach Brazilian courts as an alternative, Art. 8 renders such contracts null and void.
Most importantly, Art. 7 states that users are entitled to clear and complete information about how connection records and access logs shall be stored and protected, and to publicity of terms/policies of use of service providers. Additionally, Art. 7 emphasizes quality of service and accessibility to the Internet, and forbids suspension of Internet connections except for failure of payments. Read comprehensively, therefore, Arts. 7-15 of the Marco Civil prima facie set down robust protections for private and personal data and communications.
An initial draft of the Marco Civil sought to mandate local storage of all Brazilians’ data within Brazilian territory. This came in response to Snowden’s revelations of NSA surveillance, and President Rousseff, in her statement to the United Nations, declared that Brazil sought to protect itself from “illegal interception of communications and data”. However, the implications of this local storage requirement was the creation of a geographically isolated Brazilian Internet, with repercussions for the Internet’s openness and interoperability that the Marco Civil itself sought to protect. Moreover, there are implications for efficiency and business; for instance, small businesses may be unable to source the money or capacity to comply with local storage requirements. Also, they lead to mandating storage on political grounds, and not on the basis of effective storage. Amid widespread protest from corporations and civil society, this requirement was then withdrawn which, some say, propelled the quick passage of the bill in the Chamber of Deputies.
Intermediary liability:
Laws of many countries make service providers liable for third party content that infringes copyright or that is otherwise against the law (such as pornography or other offensive content). For instance, Section 79 of the Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended in 2008) is such a provision where intermediaries (i.e., those who host user-generated content, but do not create the content themselves) may be held liable. However, stringent intermediary liability regimes create the possibility of private censorship, where intermediaries resort to blocking or filtering user-generated content that they fear may violate laws, sometimes even without intimating the creator of the infringing content. The Marco Civil addresses this possibility of censorship by creating a restricted intermediary liability provision. Please note, however, that the bill expressly excludes from its ambit copyright violations, which a copyright reforms bill seeks to address.
At first instance, the Marco Civil exempts service providers from civil liability for third party content (Art. 18). Moreover, intermediaries are liable for damages arising out of third party content only where such intermediaries do not comply with court orders (which may require removal of content, etc.) (Art. 19). This leaves questions of infringement and censorship to the judiciary, which the author believes is the right forum to adjudicate such issues. Moreover, wherever identifying information is available, Art. 20 mandates the intermediary to appraise the creator of infringing content of the reasons for removal of his/her content, with information that enables the creator to defend him- or herself in court. This measure of transparency is particularly laudable; for instance, in India, no such intimation is required by law, and you or I as journalists, bloggers or other creators of content may never know why our content is taken down, or be equipped to defend ourselves in court against the plaintiff or petitioner who sought removal of our content. Finally, a due diligence requirement is placed on the intermediary in circumstances where third party content discloses, “without consent of its participants, of photos, videos or other materials containing nudity or sexual acts of private character”. As per Art. 21, where the intermediary does not take down such content upon being intimated by the concerned participant, it may be held secondarily liable for infringement of privacy.
This restricted intermediary liability regime is further strengthened by a requirement of specific identification of infringing content, which both the court order issued under Art. 20 and the take-down request under Art. 21 must fulfill. This requirement is missing, for instance, under Section 79 of the Indian Information Technology Act, which creates a diligence and liability regime without requiring idenfiability of infringing content.

Conclusion:

Brazil’s ‘Internet Constitution’ has done much to add to the ongoing discussion on the rights and responsibilities of users and providers. By expressly adopting protections for net neutrality and online privacy and freedom of expression, the Marco Civil may be considered to set itself up as a model for Internet rights at the municipal level, barring a Utopian bill of rights. Indeed, in an effusive statement of support for the bill, Sir Tim Berners-Lee stated: “If Marco Civil is passed, without further delay or amendment, this would be the best possible birthday gift for Brazilian and global Web users.
Of course, the Marco Civil is not without its failings. Authors say that the data retention requirements by connection and application providers, with leeway provided for law enforcement authorities to lengthen retention periods, is problematic. Moreover, the discussions surrounding data localization and a ‘walled-off’ Internet that protects against surveillance ignores the interoperability and openness that forms the core of the Internet.
On the whole, though, the Marco Civil may be considered a victory, on many counts. It is possibly the first successful example of a national legislation that is the outcome of a broad, consultative process with civil society and other affected entities. It expressly affirms Brazil’s commitment to the protection of privacy and freedom of expression, as well as to Internet accessibility and the openness of the network. It aims to eliminate the possibility of private censorship online, while upholding privacy rights of users. It seeks to reduce the potential for abuse of personal data and communication by government authorities, by requiring judicial authorization for the same. In a world where warrantless government spying extends across national border, such a provision is novel and desirable. One hopes that, when the global Internet community sits down at its various fora to identify and enumerate principles for Internet governance, it will look to the Marco Civil as an example of standards that governments may adhere to, and not necessarily resort to the lowest common denominator standards of international rights and protections.

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