Daily Briefing: Internet Regulations in Brazil
23 Mar 2023
At a glance
Brazil's new government, led by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is planning new policies on regulating the internet. With over 200 million people, Brazil is the largest country in Latin America by both population and size.
Regulating the internet, both in terms of who accesses it, how they access it and the content and revenues generated on the internet, are priorities for President Lula's appointed Secretary for Digital Policies.
Any new regulations, however, are predicated on successfully amending the 2014 "Marco Civil" which sets out the primary framework for internet regulation in Brazil.
What is happening with internet regulations in Brazil?
Following a wave of election-result-denying protests by supporters of defeated incumbent former President Jair Bolsonaro beginning in October 2022, which ultimately tipped over into an attack on Brazil's government institutions in Brasília reminiscent of the January 6th 2021 attack on the United States Capitol, Brazil's government has responded in force to online misinformation campaigns.
After an initial wave of disruptive street-level protests in November 2022, Supreme Court Justice and Elections Chief Alexandre de Moraes ordered the social media accounts of several high-profile Bolsonaro supporters and election deniers suspended. Following the election violence, Brazil's Supreme Court has received extra regulatory powers to curb the spread of election misinformation and prevent further violence.
Internet regulations in Brazil have not been updated since the passing of the Marco Civil in 2014 under President Dilma Rousseff, a long-time supporter of now-President Lula who had once served as his Chief of Staff. Given the events following the election, President Lula's administration has decided that further powers to regulate internet content are needed.
The government has launched a study on how it could regulate online platforms that generate revenues through targeted advertising or paid content. A stated goal of the study is to explore ways to "prevent the networks from being used for the dissemination and promotion of crimes and illegal content," per Secretary for Digital Policy Joao Brant.
Rather than targeting users of online platforms, as the Supreme Court did following the election violence in 2022, the new regulations would directly target the platforms themselves and hold them responsible for the content they publish.
Another priority of the study is to explore ways to hold companies legally accountable for policing misinformation, hate speech, and criminal activity on their platforms. Previously, the 2014 Marco Civil specifically exempted companies from liability for content published on their platform, freeing them from responsibility for damages resulting from the actions of third parties.
Brazil's government is now looking to fundamentally change that exemption, effectively altering the way platforms like Meta and Twitter have long operated.
A tangential issue arising from the fact that regulations haven't been updated since 2014 is that new internet service platforms like Elon Musk's Starlink network are being used by illegal mining and logging gangs in the Amazon rainforest to facilitate their operations and evade detection by authorities. A wholesale update of the 2014 law would possibly target internet service providers as well.
What is in it for you?
If you're reading this from Brazil, what's in it for you is quite obvious. You're looking at a possible future with a significantly different internet. Liability for content published on online platforms like Meta and Twitter would fundamentally change how they operate.
These platforms may find the regulatory costs and potential legal liability of operating in Brazil under these new regulations may be too burdensome, and decide to ultimately exit the Brazilian market entirely. Your online life will look very different if that becomes the case, however unlikely such a dramatic move may be.
For readers in the United States, where most of these platforms are based, new regulations in Brazil will force them to comply and alter some of their policies and procedures.
There may be a trickle-down effect, not unlike when new EU regulations on data protection triggered a cascade effect of every website you go on pestering you with popups about accepting their cookie and data retention policy.
On a more serious note, lawmakers in the US and UK are looking to tighten their grip on the internet and social media platforms as well, most visibly in their current quest to vanquish TikTok. Lawmakers may take inspiration from the results of Brazil's experiment and apply best practices and lessons learned domestically.
What happens next?
The new regulations will have to be a collaborative process between Brazil's executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Courts will get involved as they did with Meta Platforms 2017 lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2014 Marco Civil.
Given the close political alignment of President Rousseff and President Lula, it is unlikely that they will throw out the Marco Civil wholesale. Rather, an update or amendment process may be more likely to follow. The 2017 lawsuit filed by Meta is scheduled for a public hearing next week on 28 March.
Anyone interested in or affected by these potential regulations should listen closely to the government's arguments in that case for an indication of what they're thinking and how far they're willing to go.