Skip to Content

Cybersecurity & Standards, Government Surveillance

Momentum Builds for Brazil’s Internet Rights Law

Today, CDT joined 124 civil society organizations and individuals from Brazil and around the world in a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, commending her for her strong support of open Internet ideals and calling for the enactment of Brazil’s pending Bill of Internet Rights (Marco Civil da Internet). Rousseff delivered a scathing speech at the UN General Assembly this week that criticized the U.S. government’s mass surveillance of the global communications infrastructure and noted, “In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy.”

In her speech, Rousseff highlighted several key principles for Internet governance and policy, which have informed domestic debates in Brazil’s Internet Steering Committee ( They include the principle that Internet-related policy must be designed to support freedom of expression, privacy of the individual, and respect for human rights; that governance be open, democratic, and involve the participation of civil society, industry, and government; and that network neutrality be preserved and restrictions on Internet access for political, commercial, religious, or other reasons be prohibited.

Rousseff’s address to the General Assembly comes just before the Brazilian Congress is set to once again take up the Marco Civil. The Marco Civil guarantees core civil rights for Internet users, outlines strong network neutrality provisions, and was developed through a participatory process that involved a broad range of advocates, experts, law enforcement officials, and industry representatives in Brazil. Since the revelations about the US government’s surveillance activities, the bill has gained momentum in Congress, and President Rousseff’s speech further strengthened the bill’s prospects. As with any legislative process, it will be important for advocates to keep a close eye on the Marco Civil’s text as it makes its way through Congress. Rousseff has also supported an amendment to Marco Civil that would require cloud service providers that serve Brazilians to store their data in Brazil. These kinds of data localization requirements can function as barriers to the free flow of information online, and would not necessarily keep Brazilians’ data out of the NSA’s hands.

One ambiguity in Rousseff’s speech was her use of the term “multilateral” when referring to Internet governance frameworks. “Multilateral” is often used to refer to intergovernmental processes, though in at least one instance, Rousseff used the term in the context of discussing open, democratic, and transparent governance processes that involve the participation of civil society, government, and the private sector. This phrasing comes from the Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet, which have guided Brazil’s domestic multistakeholder Internet policy development processes.

However, Rousseff made repeated use of the word “multilateral” throughout her speech, in some cases linking the term directly to frameworks or systems in which the UN, an intergovernmental body, is referred to as the “main pillar.” This usage points to a more government-centric interpretation of the term and brings to the forefront the on-going discussions over the role of governments in Internet governance, in which Brazil has been a prominent player. CDT has long argued against inter-governmental Internet governance and policy development, whether based at the UN or other international venues, or at the national or regional level. The Internet has thrived under decentralized and open governance that involves the direct participation of human rights advocates, technical experts, industry, academics, as well as governments.

The Marco Civil presents an instructive model not only of substantive protections for Internet users’ fundamental rights, but also of the process for developing this kind of Internet-related policy. We hope Brazil and other governments continue to champion this kind of participatory policymaking framework and resist proposals that would relegate non-government stakeholders to the sidelines.