Brazil Government Bucking Trend Toward Informational Openness

The latest of several worrying trends relating to informational freedom in Brazil, earlier this week the Brazilian  Ministry of Education and Culture revoked the Creative Commons license that it has used since 2004. The move is yet one more indication that the Brazilian government continues to resist openness and strive for informational control. Brazil denies its citizens access to historical archives and access to public information. It remains one of only a handful of countries in the region not to have passed a freedom of information law– although a bill has languished in Congress since 2009.

Informational Control: the Internet

Unlike Copyright Law, Creative Commons licenses allow for free sharing of content and therefore permit technologists to make productive “re-use” of web-based materials, creating useful digital tools or graphic illustrations of information. The large and growing Brazilian Open-Data movement, best represented by the virtual community Transparência Hackday, has slammed government for its decision to restrict the use of its content. According to an article published on Brazil’s Creative Commons website, new usage rules leave those wanting to use the website’s content in a dangerous legal limbo.

Government control over the internet goes much deeper than issues of copyright, however. Unlike most other countries, websites ending in the country’s abbreviation–e.g.> .com.br –must be licensed through a governmental regulating entity, the CGI.

Brazil is also gaining quite the reputation for internet censorship. The Brazilian government reportedly asked Google to remove more content from the internet than any other country, as Google shows in a June-January 2010 sample. Although China’s numbers are not accounted for in the totals, and half of requests by the Brazilian government address content on the nationally popular Google-run social website, Orkut, the amount of requests-for-removals dwarfed those of most other countries. According to Google, copyright infringement, defamation, and  impersonation are the primary justifications for governmental requests for Google to remove content.

Denying Citizens Access to Public Archives on their Past

Resistance to providing citizens with information on the country’s past is yet another manifestation of how Brazil is bucking international trends toward openness. In November, 2010, Brazil’s leading advocates boycotted a government-sponsored International Seminar on Archives and Access to Information in response to broken promises for greater openness. Government announced it would keep archives from the 1964-85 dictatorship closed, contrary to what it had pledged earlier. One month after the boycott, in December 2010, the OAS’ (Organization of American States) Inter-American Court ruled on citizens “right to truth” and the illegality of Brazil’s infamous Amnesty Law (Gomes Lund v. Brazil), which protects those who perpetrated human rights abuses during the last dictatorship.

This decision–which still awaits a response from the Brazilian government– follows on the heels of another seminal Inter-American ruling, Claude Reyes et al v. Chile (2006), which mandated the adoption of freedom of information laws by all governments within the OAS, and led to the passage of four laws in 2007-2008, those of Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Uruguay. The Brazilian government has remained unresponsive to both of these OAS decisions, even while it propagates an international image of  social justice (justice without information?) and transparency.

No Freedom of Information– Where do all those Tax Dollars Go?

Even though Brazil has one of the highest tax burdens in the world, the country curiously still places among the top fifteen most unequal countries, globally. This paradox should raise eyebrows about  where all those tax dollars go. Yet Brazilian citizens still have no freedom of information law with which they can “follow the money”.

Although more than 85 countries now have freedom of information laws, Brazil’s measure still languishes in Congress. Originally promised in 2006 by then President Lula da Silva, the bill was passed by the Chamber of Deputies in April of 2010 and currently awaits enactment in the Senate. The right to information is a fundamental human right, enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is of considerable use to businesses, the press, NGOs, public sector administrators, and citizens.

In a phone conversation with a a colleague at Transparência Hackday, I suggested that we arrange a meeting and presentations to address the issue of the pending law. The media have certainly not provided sufficient coverage for citizens to infer what the law is, what it is for, what the global norms are, and what has happened to the measure politically. Since that phone conversation, transparency advocates have set a meeting for February 5th at 2pm in São Paulo’s Esfera Cultural. The meeting has gained attention; it has now secured the sanction of Brazil’s Artigo 19, among others. Let’s hope we come up with some strategies that will help advance the cause of openness and informational democracy in Brazil.

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