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Brazil: Remembering Internet censorship in 2010

One of 2010′s landmark events, the WikiLeaks phenomenon, revealed a huge amount of data regarding the true breadth of the consequences of North American foreign policy in the last decades. The bellicose reaction of Barack Obama's administration against those responsible for the leaks highlighted a more than necessary debate on the state of freedom of speech throughout the world, particularly on the Internet.

Let's remember some of the many censorship cases that happened last year on the Brazilian Internet.

Google Transparency Report

Google Transparency Report

Google recently lauched a project called Transparency Report: Government Requests, mapping all the requests it received to remove content from its services. Brazil occupies two prominent places on the list, in the period ranging from January to June 2010; it is the leader for requests to remove content and is in second place for requests to disclose information from users of the company's services, behind the USA.

As Global Voices reported back in 2009, this form of censorship, achieved through legal harassment, is a main cause for concern in the country. It is a dangerous way of restricting the right to freely express ideas because legal decisions disguise their real intention with different justifications, such as the defence against alleged slander and the defence of private property.

A prime example, covered by Global Voices last year, occurred with brothers Mário and Lino Bocchini, authors of the (now extinct) satirical blog Falha de São Paulo, a parody of one of Brazil's biggest newspapers, Folha de São Paulo. Claiming the blog was using too similar a logo and URL that could cause “confusion among the users”, the newspaper sued for undue use of a trademark.

Commenting on the blog Desculpe a nossa fAlha, created to expose the issue, the brothers hit the bull's eye:

Na boa, não estamos conformados com essa barbaridade. Não achamos exagero dizer que o jornal está dando não só um tapa na nossa cara, mas na cara de todos os blogueiros do Brasil e de todos os que defendem a liberdade que a Folha tanto cobra.

Really, we are astonished with this nonsense. It would not be an overstatement to say that the newspaper is not only slapping our faces with this, but the faces of all of the Brazilian bloggers and of all who defend the freedom that the Folha [de São Paulo] preaches so much about.
Xuxa Meneguel

Image licensed by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Another debate came up over a legal action where Xuxa Meneguel, a famous host of children's television shows, demanded Google to remove all search results [Pt and all links below] leading to websites that contained scenes of the 1982 movie “Amor Estranho Amor” [Love Strange Love], where Meneguel is pictured naked with a child, and also from websites that contained old images from her naked photo shoot in a distinguished men's magazine.

Blogger Paulo Sabbanelli shares his perspective:

Uma pessoa pública, como a Xuxa, deveria ser exemplo da liberdade de expressão e não de censura e opressão. A apresentadora tem a Rede Globo para falar o que bem entende sobre o mundo, vender suas ideologias e produtos.

A public figure, like Xuxa, should be an example of freedom of speech and not of censorship and opression. She has the Globo [TV] Network to say whatever she wants about the world, to sell her ideologies and products.

In another case, journalist Itevaldo Junior had his blog legally censored after denouncing the ilegal activities of a judge. The magistrate Nemias Nunes Carvalho was accused of buying more than 100 hectares of land from a woman who was accused of murder and had an arrest warant revoked (by Nunes) while on the run from justice. Another important detail is the speed in which a decision was reached on the case against the blog – only two minutes. The irony has not escaped Itevaldo:

A celeridade da Justiça neste caso é de fazer inveja ao velocista jamaicano Usain Bolt, recordista mundial dos 100 metros rasos no atletismo.

The haste in which the Justice system reached a decision in this case is the envy of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, holder of the 100-meter sprint world record.
Beto Richa

Beto Richa – Image dedicated to public domain

A still common tendency is politically-driven censorship, particularly around the time of elections, when litigation is also used to achieve certain results. Journalist Esmael Morais’ blog covered the actions of the then candidate for governor of the state of Paraná, Beto Richa, who can only be described as a “serial censor”. He forced a weekly magazine to remove an unfavourable portion of an article, temporarily prevented national research institutes to publish polls in which he was losing the run for the office, forced a Twitter user to delete a post where he mentioned leaked results from the same polls, and finally censored Esmael on several occasions.

Ivo Pugnaloni gives more details about the blog's censorship:

Embora a Justiça tenha determinado a retirada de imagens e textos, o juiz Anor Ribeiro de Macedo não decretou segredo de Justiça no caso. Porém, acatou o argumento de Beto Richa segundo qual estaria sofrendo fortes “abalos emocionais e psicológicos” por causa do blogueiro paranaense, que poderiam respingar no seu desempenho eleitoral. Uma delicadeza.

Though Justice has determined the removal of images and texts, the judge Anor Ribeiro de Macedo did not decreed the case to be held secret. However, he considered as valid Beto Richas's argument that he was suffering from strong “emotional and psychological stress” caused by the blogger from Paraná, which could damage his ongoing campaign. What a fragile beauty.

Not always those who publish content are the direct targets of legal actions, which can be an even more dangerous situation. Such a case occurred with the Independent Media Center [en] (IMC), which had the access to its website blocked by a number of Brazilian ISPs without any kind of notification. The problem was discovered only when users complained of not being able to access the URL, making it possible to confront the companies. On an article, IMC remembers another country that uses similar tactics:

Esta censura judicial abre um precedente terrível, pois se tudo seguir assim qualquer site poderá se tornar inacessível de uma hora pra outra sempre que juízes resolverem impor seu bloqueio não para as empresas que o hospedam, mas para empresas que oferecem serviços de Internet (ou seja, a banda para seus clientes navegarem pela rede e acessarem sites). Essas empresas estão criando no Brasil um “firewall da China” (que conhecidamente bloqueia acesso de sua população a diversos sites). E sabe-se lá quantos outros sites estão bloqueados nesse “firewall” brasileiro.

This legal censorship sets a terrible precedent, because if that becomes common practice, any website could become suddenly inaccessible whenever judges feel like imposing their blockade not on companies that host them, but on ISPs (in other words, those who provide the Internet connection for users to visit websites). These companies are creating a “Chinese firewall” (which openly blocks its population from accessing various websites) in Brazil. Who knows how many other websites are blocked in this Brazilian “firewall”.

Brazil lacks legal protection regarding freedom of expression, the laws and the magistrates’ mentality needs to change. It is important to continue with eyes wide open; the fight to keep these rights is only beginning, and the Internet is the main battlefield.

This article was proofread by Marta Cooper.

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