Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff recently delivered a speech before the United Nations General Assembly that was very well received among Internet freedom advocates. In her speech, President Rousseff criticized the United States for spying and also mentioned that Brazil “will present proposals for the establishment of a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet and to ensure the effective protection of data that travels through the web.” Her words are, without a doubt, a very good starting point for Brazil if it wants to be the new international leader that guarantees Internet freedom. However, it is necessary that Brazil take concrete actions in support of Rousseff’s words.
For instance, if Brazil were to join the Freedom Online Coalition, a group of governments committed to advance Internet freedom, it would send a positive message to the international community. Countries that join the coalition endorse a statement supporting the principle that all people enjoy the same human rights online as they do offline. From Latin America, only Costa Rica and Mexico are part of the coalition. On the other hand, other countries that are not members of the coalition, such as Russia, China and India, have taken steps in the wrong direction. For example, in the past, they have presented draft resolutions to the UN General assembly, which would have put in risk Internet governance. For Brazil, joining the Freedom Online Coalition would be a turning point and a step in the opposite direction, demonstrating that it takes some distance from its partners in groups such as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa).
Another action that Brazil could take to support the President’s speech is to implement domestic public policies and to push laws that guarantee freedom online, particularly freedom of expression. The situation in Brazil up to date is not encouraging. Reports by International NGOs –such as the recent Freedom on the Net report published by Freedom House that indicates that Brazil is a “partial free” country– or reports by private companies –such as the Google Transparency Report that shows that Brazil is one of the countries with the most requests to take down content from the Internet- shows that there is lots to do at the domestic level to improve Internet liberties. The bill known as the “marco civil” or “civil framework” for the Internet, that could improve the situation for better freedom online is still pending before the Brazilian Congress, though the President stated in her speech that she supports and will continue to support the initiative.
Finally, Brazil should assure it would work for an Internet governance approach that will not damage Internet infrastructure, and more importantly, will not impose risks on basic human rights. Last week's announcement that Brazil will host a global Internet governance summit next year could be positive, but it is not yet clear what Brazil's position on this issue will be: Earlier this year, Brazil signed the ITU treaty in Dubai that was criticized by advocates and experts as a document that could undermine Internet freedom. Brazil should distance itself from these initiatives.
Speeches delivered within the framework of inter-governmental organizations, like the UN, should be taken seriously. But while very important, they are only words if they are not followed by concrete actions in the right direction adopted by all branches of government. A true champion does not stop at words.
This article was authored by Eduardo Bertoni, Director of the CELE, the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression at University of Palermo School of Law in Argentina.