Participatory approach to the Internet
The Internet Bill of Rights has brought transparency and legal security to the Brazilian digital landscape
This Sunday, Brazilian society celebrates three years of the enactment of the Internet Bill of Rights (Marco Civil da Internet). It is the first ever national law to “establish principles, guarantees, rights and obligations for the use of the Internet” and has been praised internationally for its progressive nature. Among many reasons to commemorate, two aspects of the Marco Civil deserve to be highlighted.
First, the Bill has brought transparency and legal security to the Brazilian digital landscape. Before it became law, no Internet user in the country could be sure about how service and content providers would handle their data. With the current legislation, any request of an Internet user to remove personal information from social media or website must be promptly honoured. Moreover, the so-called metadata—for example, information about one’s date and time of access—must be stored under absolute secrecy by telecommunication providers and may only be disclosed in response to a court order. The Marco Civil has also affirmed the principle of network neutrality. Companies and organizations, regardless of size, resources and influence, can rest assured that their content will be accessed and transferred under exactly the same technical parameters as those of any other institution.
Second, the Brazilian Marco Civil is not only a product of lawmakers, but of Brazilian society as a whole. Its original idea stems from protests of civil society organizations against an Internet criminalization draft Bill that would typify crimes such as illegal downloads, electronic financial fraud and paedophilia. Cyber activists claimed that before criminalizing Internet users’ behaviour, their rights and responsibilities had to be defined. Facilitated by an online platform provided by the federal government, Brazilian Internet users began a collaborative drafting process that eventually resulted in the text that was submitted to Congress in 2011 and three years later became the Marco Civil da Internet.
The Brazilian tradition of multi-stakeholder participation in the digital realm dates back to the year 1995, when the Brazilian Internet steering committee (CGI.br) was established. The CGI.br is the body responsible for managing the “.br” top-level domain and the countrywide assignment of IP addresses. Since its inception, it has been governed by a multi-stakeholder board, composed of representatives from governmental institutions, private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia. Despite the natural differences that arise during the committee’s debates, its decisions carry the approval of the various national sectors involved in the maintenance and evolution of the Brazilian Internet. Such a democratic platform confers stability and predictability, which are essential to a dynamic digital economy and to the effectiveness of information and communication technology-related policies. Using the same participatory approach, Brazilian society has been fully engaged in discussions on a national data privacy law and has contributed to the drafting of the national policy for the Internet of Things, which is soon to be released.
In the international arena, Brazil has been a long-standing advocate of multi-stakeholder Internet governance mechanisms, in combination with multilateral arrangements. Brazil is the only country to have hosted the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) twice [Rio de Janeiro (2007) and João Pessoa (2015)]. The NETmundial Meeting (São Paulo, 2014) attracted over 1,000 people from more than 100 countries and was the first ever multi-stakeholder “bottom-up” process to agree on a set of Internet governance principles and a road map for the future evolution of the Internet. Within Icann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)—the California-based company responsible for managing the Internet “address book”—Brazil has been vocal in defending the suppression of its unilateral command. And in the context of the UN Human Rights Council, Brazil and Germany have proposed a resolution on the principle that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. The resolution ultimately resulted in the establishment of the role of the special rapporteur on the right to privacy, whose final report is expected to be released in 2018.
During the 10-year review of the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS+10), in New York, in December 2015, Brazil, together with India and other delegations, played a key role in overcoming the traditional polarization between countries that either only support multi-stakeholderism or otherwise defend an exclusive intergovernmental management of the Internet.
Our countries have shown that the two models are not contradictory—rather, they complement each other. While cybersecurity matters require the leadership of governments, given their legal implications, topics such as the coordination of critical Internet resources are better treated under a multisectoral scheme. Similarly, the definition of Internet communication standards should be guided by the private sector and academic/engineering bodies, due to their technical capabilities, while transnational electronic trade rules need to be deliberated under a multilateral arrangement.
The Internet should be governed by many. And it has to serve all. As of today, more than half of the world’s population has never had access to its benefits. The collaborative approach will continue to be the most suitable one to address the challenge of bringing online those hitherto offline.
Tovar Da Silva Nunes and Pedro Ivo Ferraz Da Silva are, respectively, ambassador of Brazil to India and head of the energy, environment and science & technology section, Embassy of Brazil in New Delhi