The Right to Information in Brazil– Censorship, Fines for Sharing Wi-Fi

Following up on several other related posts, two recent news items give us reason to wonder about freedom of information in Brazil. First, Brazil’s telecommunications regulator, ANATEL, confiscated the computer equipment of three young people and fined them $3000R (about $2000US) for sharing an internet signal among their three dwellings in an effort to save money. Second, news has surfaced that in the first half of last year, Brazil asked Google to remove more news articles from the internet than any other country in the world, a total of 398, of which 177 requests involved a Judicial order [postscript: this was misinformed news– based on false reports by the Committee to Protect Journalists, please see correction, next post.]. Brazil’s efforts to censure information were more intense than Libya’s, which came in second.

Censorship is an old story in Brazil. But the news about ANATEL is especially jarring. ANATEL alleges that the operator of the standard D-Link modem was acting as a “provider”, and is therefore operating without a license and criminally liable. If this argument were taken to its logical conclusion, a family member providing other paying family members with wi-fi should be fined. The incident clearly indicates who ANATEL is working for, and it sure isn’t your average citizen.  It is telling that the Jornal Globo, representing the interests of the country’s largest media conglomerate and its largest internet provider (NET), wrote nothing about the incident.

We would prefer not to be consistently negative about the way the Brazilian State approaches information, but it’s an important issue. Especially important, I might point out, because Brazil remains one of the few countries in Latin America still resisting the enactment of a freedom of information law– a measure that permits citizens to ask and receive information on a) how regulation is followed and b) taxpayer money is spent. This law still awaits passage in the Senate.

Fining three friends for sharing Wi-Fi indicates that Brazilian officials are just not “getting” the internet, which is about advancing knowledge, communication, and will help Brazil and Brazilians get ahead in the modern world. ANATEL’s hard-headed attitude toward citizens–particularly the middle and lower classes– reflects the state’s contradictory attitude towards its citizens. One of the most critical is the fact that Brazilian consumers pay about double what they would for a laptop in the U.S. or Canada, due to steep government imposed import taxes.

Now, imposing onerous taxes on the single most important learning tool– a computer– is a sure way to retard Brazil’s chief public policy goal, the quest to improve education. The upper-middle to elite classes in Brazil might find these taxes annoying, but they buy most all their gadgets at half price in the U.S. or other countries that respect their citizens rights to technology. For Brazil’s middle to lower classes who cannot afford to travel abroad or lacks friends who can bring them goodies from the U.S., it’s just plain unfair. Would these sorts of policies be different if the upper classes had to pay full price?

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