Brazil was the second country where conditions around freedom on the internet and digital media have seen the sharpest decline, according to a new report.
According to the report Freedom on the Net 2013, published by independent watchdog Freedom House last week, Brazil is only surpassed by India in terms of the how closed and limited communications online have become in the past year.
To measure how a country is faring when the subject is freedom on the internet, the watchdog used an approach of three pillars. The first, Obstacles to Access, looks at areas such as infrastructural and economic barriers to web access and legal and ownership control over internet service providers and independence of regulatory bodies.
The second, on Limits on Content, analyzes aspects including legal regulations on content, technical filtering and blocking of websites and censorship. The third pillar, Violations of User Rights, includes surveillance, privacy, and repercussions for online activity, such as imprisonment.
Reported cases across various of these research areas meant that the Brazilian index fell from 27 in 2012 to 32 this year — meaning the country has gone from "free" on the internet to "partly free."
A year of change
Freedom House has listed a range of developments that took place between May 2012 and April 2013 that prompted the decline in online freedom.
These include the obstacles to widespread adoption of end-user internet services, which has been hindered by high costs, low quality, and regional infrastructural disparity;
Legal action connected to content removal by the judiciary and government officials, such as the Facebook outage threat last week — according to the report, this is becoming an increasingly common trend and could become a possible barrier to free speech.
High-profile cases of intermediary liability are also featured in the report, including criminal charges against Google executives in 2012 and 2013 for failure to remove content prohibited under electoral law, which are still pending.
The changes to the Marco Civil Bill — originally intended to serve as a "Constitution for the Internet," guaranteeing freedom of expression, net neutrality, and the right to privacy — which leaves users in a climate of legal uncertainty also prompted the decline of Brazil in the online freedom chart.
Cases of threats, intimidation, and violence against online journalists and bloggers, which appears to bear a clear link to content they posted online have also been mentioned in the report. This, according to the watchdog, negatively impacts freedom of expression and has the potential to encourage self-censorship.
The report also points out that episodes linked to online press over the last year have resulted in Brazil becoming one of the world’s five deadliest countries for media professionals.