All you need to know about Brazil's "Internet Constitution"

The first set of internet governance rules in the country is surrounded by controversy and scares big organizations to death
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Brazil's "Internet Constitution" is due to be voted next week amid a war involving local politicians, some of the largest telecommunications firms and activists over citizens rights online.

The fate of the regulations, dubbed Marco Civil da Internet, was due to be decided earlier this week but disagreement from corporates and the political opposition over the original proposals meant the voting got postponed to next week.

The Marco Civil project is being led by Alessandro Molon of Dilma Rousseff's Workers Party and has already undergone a four-year consultation process.

What is the Marco Civil about?

The Marco Civil da Internet is the first set of internet governance rules in Brazil. Supporters of the Bill see the original text as a positive piece of legislation, which includes provisions across three key pillars: freedom of expression, net neutrality and privacy.

Freedom of expression online: If voted in its original form, the regulations would guarantee the protection of freedom of expression and the right to privacy online. While there are fears that such measures could prompt a rise in piracy and publication of unlawful content in Brazil, the Marco Civil guarantees that users would only be identified with information on their communications disclosed at the request of a court order and limited to occasions where criminal investigations and prosecutions are taking place.

Large Brazilian media organizations such as Globo are understood to be strongly opposed to this.

Net neutrality: The Marco Civil also determines that internet providers are required to treat all data that goes through their network in the same way. That in practice means operators would no longer be able to set higher or lower speeds according to individual internet usage patterns, load certain websites faster and also offer free access to certain content such as social networking tools while charging for others.

The Marco Civil also determines that the connection can not be suspended unless there is debt, and the company responsible for the connection is required to maintain the same quality of service on the same contract terms. The changes are clearly upsetting for the Brazilian telcos, who have been lobbying for years to ensure the current situation is maintained for fear of diminishing profits.

Privacy: After the recent scandal involving the NSA monitoring of emails of millions of Brazilians including President Dilma Rousseff, the government requested the inclusion of another provision in the Marco Civil, stating that the data of internet users has to be stored in Brazil.

This is controversial amongst large and small companies that rely heavily on cloud services that may not necessarily be hosted locally. Additionally, it can be argued that the changes will do nothing to prevent against the possibility of intrusive surveillance.

What is happening now?

The president of the House of Representatives wants the Bill to be voted "when there is more agreement" between the various parties. Currently, there is still plenty of disagreement between the public representatives, the interests of the organizations some of them are influenced by, as well as the politicians that support the original text.

The Bill is now being processed as a matter of constitutional urgency and the fact it cannot be voted until next week prevents various other proposals from being voted too - such as the law that would allow anyone to publish biographies regardless of whether the subject allows it or not - so this process has to be out of the way soon. 

Politicians and activists who have campaigned for provisions such as net neutrality wanted the Bill to be voted as soon as possible regardless of the agreement of the opposition and the telcos - however, ithe vote on the Marco Civil will only take place on November 5, when the leader of the initiative is due to present a final version of the Bill.

This weekend is set to be packed full of reports of secret dinners with politicians, media tycoons and telco bosses, petitions with several hundreds of thousands supporting the original proposal and protests against the interests of the large corporations. We just have to hope that on Tuesday, common sense will prevail and Brazil will not take yet another backwards step.

Editorial standards