Brazil deputies pass landmark Internet Bill

SAO PAULO - New Internet governance legislation was approved by Brazil's Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday to protect the privacy of the nation’s web users and guarantee equal access to the Internet.

The bill, which had been delayed in the lower house of Congress for five months due to wrangling over several provisions, now heads to the upper house for debate by senators. If approved by the upper house it will be forwarded for presidential approval or veto.

Additional proposals for the groundbreaking legislation – dubbed the “Marco Civil da Internet” or “Internet Constitution” – followed last year’s revelations by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, who alleged that Brazilians had been spied on – including President Dilma Rousseff and the country's state-run oil giant Petrobras.

But one of the additional provisions, which would have forced global Internet companies to store data on servers within Brazil, proved too contentious and was removed to ensure the bill was passed by lawmakers after pressure from both inside and outside the chamber, including global Internet companies.

The watered-down clause now says that foreign companies, such as Google and Facebook, are subject to Brazilian laws even if data is stored outside Brazil.

But the government pushed through another key part of the bill, which would guarantee equal access to the Internet and prevent companies from charging more for different content, such as online video and voice services, or less for access just to email and social networks.

The bill also limits the gathering and use of metadata of those using the Internet in Brazil: browsing history logs can neither be kept nor sold under the new law, which some are calling the “end of targeted marketing” for Internet companies in the country where nearly 50 percent of the 200-million-strong population used the Internet in 2012.

-Brazil 'taking lead on Internet issues'

Internet governance is an area in which Brazil is keen to take a lead role after last year's spying revelations.

President Rousseff took to Twitter on Wednesday to describe the bill as a “tool of freedom of expression, an individual's privacy and respect for human rights.”

“The approval of [this bill] is a victory for the whole of Brazilian society” and “showed Brazil's leadership in a topic that the world is debating – security, privacy and plurality on the Internet,” Rousseff said in a sequence of tweets.

International non-government organization Avaaz had handed a petition to deputies on Tuesday with over 344,000 signatories calling on lawmakers to approve the bill.

The bill has received praise and support from key Internet experts around the world, including British World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee.

“If [passed], Brazil will cement its proud reputation as a world leader on democracy and social progress and will help to usher in a new era – one where citizens' rights in every country around the world are protected by digital bills of rights,” Berners-Lee said earlier this week.

Others have praised the bill for balancing the rights of individuals, governments and businesses with overall Internet access.

The NSA spy revelations last year soured relations between Brazil and the United States last year, and led to Rousseff calling off a planned state visit to Washington in October 2013, despite attempts from high-level officials to address Brasília's concerns.

President Rousseff went on to use the opening address to the UN General Assembly to call for action against massive surveillance of Internet users.

Brazil will also host a global summit on Internet governance in São Paulo in April, amid talks between Brazil and Europe for a new fiber-optic underwater telecommunications cable that will allow Brazil to link up directly with Europe and Asia, bypassing the United States.

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