Last Friday, Latin American government leaders issued a strong statement against the mass surveillance of their citizens by the US government at an emergency meeting of MERCOSUR, South America's leading economic and diplomatic alliance. Approaching the meeting, a collective of activists, academics and NGOs from Latin America wrote an open letter [es] to MERCOSUR, inviting leaders to consult with civil society in building human rights-protective policies for the region. The letter put forth a collaborative vision for Internet policy making:
We want Latin America to become the model both of laws and practices allowing and enabling us to exercise our human rights to the maximum degree. The espionage problem we are facing right now is…an opportunity for us. Working together, governments and civil society, we can design a regional policy allowing us to develop in full all the potential of new technologies while protecting our citizens.
Civil society leaders encouraged governments to hold open, participatory policy-making processes and enable citizens to collaborate in the design of a new regional approach to the Internet, embracing principles of free expression, access, openness, privacy and the free flow of information.
In their declaration [es], MERCOSUR leaders rejected the interception of communications, characterizing it as a violation of human rights, the right to privacy, and the right to information (see item 8). They recognized the importance of ICTs for development and the urgent need for robust infrastructure in the region, especially broadband access (see items 45, 46).
They also embraced free software:
We support free software development, as it will enable us to develop regional ICTs solution, so we will achieve a real appropriation and promotion of free knowledge and free transfer of technologies, reducing our dependence on solutions from transnational companies which are not willing to respect our emergent industries. We affirm our interest in the promotion of free software in all national digital inclusion programs.
The statement emphasized free software principles for the effective use, implementation, research and transfer of technology and established as priority the development of regional public policy to achieve these ends.
If MERCOSUR leaders are able to to act on their stated aims, working with other countries and civil society groups in the region and reforming national-level legislation to meet the standards they put forth last week, the region could provide a powerful example for the global south, becoming a safe haven for expression, innovation and human development.