May 11 2023 GM
Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IF Square on the TCU Mattermost, at 9am EDT / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.
- Date: Thursday, May 11
- Time: 9am EDT / 1pm UTC
- Who: Raquel Saraiva and Pedro Amaral
- Moderator: Ursula
- Where: On TCU Mattermost "IF Square" Channel.
- Don't have an account to the TCU Mattermost? you can request one following the directions here.
Digital Rights in Brazil and the Platform Regulation Bill Focused on Content Moderation
We will learn about Brazil digital rights challenges and the bill that is proposing to moderate online content and hate speech in the country. The issue of platforms liability and content moderation has become a pressing concern after the storming of the Brazilian capital by far-right supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro on January, 2023. As a result of the violence that day, the new Lula Da Silva's Brazilian government has actively pursued measures to enhance the responsibility of intermediaries in moderating online content. Although there are risks to freedom of expression and privacy in some regulation proposals, civil society is engaged in the process due to the urgency of platform regulation to promote safer online spaces in the country.
- Raquel Saraiva, president of Instituto de Pesquisa em Direito e Tecnologia do Recife (Law and Technology Research Institute of Recife in Portuguese).
- Pedro Amaral, project leader at Instituto de Pesquisa em Direito e Tecnologia do Recife.
Could you introduce yourself to the folks who are arriving in the chat room?
- My name is Pedro, I'm a researcher and project leader at Law and Technology Research Institute of Recife (IP.rec). I am currently leading a project called Encryption Observatory (obcrypto.org), which focuses on public and private encryption policies and its effects on human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. I'm also researching government hacking and police intelligence in Brazil. I'm Ph.D. student at Federal University of Pernambuco and I am a sociologist
- My name is Raquel Saraiva, I am the president of IP.rec. I have a degree in law and a master's degree in computer science. IP.rec has now 5 years and we work with research and advocacy in defense of digital rights. We are located in Recife, which is far from the center of the political and economical power in Brazil, which brings us some challenges.
- Raquel answers: there is an idea among public policy makers that it is necessary to monitor communications to prevent illicit acts. In my opinion, this is the biggest challenge in terms of digital rights in Brazil. Several episodes in the country's recent history demonstrate this. For example, between 2015 and 2016, there were 4 consecutive orders to block WhatsApp in the country, which led to 2 cases in the supreme court. Investigative bodies want, for example, to weaken cryptography to facilitate this monitoring. Now in the discussion of the bill on content moderation, the government has a very controversial idea, which is to oblige platforms to monitor allegedly illegal content on a permanent basis, which we do not agree with, of course, because it implies constant monitoring of communications from all users. So it's a general idea that privacy and freedom of expression are less important than catching the bad guys.
- Pedro adds: There are many. Brazil is a fragile democracy. There are many inequalities in rights and public services, such as healthcare, education and access to the internet. The digitalization of life we are seeing around here updates many old challenges and brings new ones to the table. We still need to guarantee significant access to the internet, which is required to use public services and exercise full citizenship, but state and platform power can also be used to violate many rights, such as to freedom of information, of expression and privacy.
- Raquel mentions this: What Pedro said is important, a large part of the population still does not have a significant connection, but on the other hand, a good part of public services are offered through digital platforms. this inequality is still very big and we need to fight it.
Regarding the IP.rec's statement: It's interesting to me that policymakers are so concerned with encryption as the problem, but it looks like some of them might have been encouraged in plain, unencrypted sight on Telegram. Are any legislators talking about Telegram and other non-encrypted channels?
- Pedro says: Telegram just got blocked last week and were again charged by our Supreme Court yesterday for misinformation around the Bill on content moderation. The federal government produced a version of this bill focusing also on such channels.
The issue of platforms liability and content moderation has become a big issue after the storming of the Brazilian capital by far-right supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro. There is a bill that is proposing to moderate online content and hate speech in the country. For those who are not familiarized with the topic, could you explain who proposed this bill and in what legislation stage is in your Congress?
- Raquel answers: firstly, it is good to explain that the bill being discussed has gone through several rounds of discussion since 2020, when it was approved in the Senate and passed to the Chamber of Deputies. There were several public hearings with specialists and representatives of civil society and companies, but the project had its discussion interrupted due to the 2022 electoral process. Now in 2023, after the acts of January 8 in Brasília, the Lula government decided to proceed again to the proposal, since the acts were planned and incited through social networks. The Senator who proposed the law is not from the base of the government, he is from the opposition, but he was also in opposition to Jair Bolsonaro in the previous administration. So this is not a government bill, but the government became interested in the issue after the elections and after the acts of January 8th. Currently, the proposal is being discussed by the Chamber of Deputies, after being approved by the Senate. but as it has been modified, it must afterwards return to the senate for ratification. it started in 2020 and we hope it will be approved later this month.
- Pedro adds: As Raquel pointed out, the bill has long history in the Congress and it focuses more on systemic risks than on specific contents. Several advances in terms of platform regulation were brought by civil society and others problems were removed, such as traceability of messages in e2ee messengers.
Clearly they struggle with understanding cryptography, but do the government representatives working on the bills seem to understand how content moderation does or does not scale? Do they know how platforms do it?
- Pedro responds: I cant say if legislators and governments understand the dynamics involved or sometimes they just choose to ignore it. It has been difficult to point out the differences between private, group and public communications, which frequently are treated the same way by authorities.
- Raquel says: I think they don't understand, but at the same time they talk publicly about things they don't understand. and we in civil society have had problems accessing them and convincing them that we can improve some aspects of the law for technical reasons
In some regions this type of laws have helped to increase surveillance and censorship against journalists and users, from your point of view, what should be the balance to promote digital rights and no erode them even more?
- Pedro shares: That's one of the central problems around here. I think we are advancing in this sense by focusing on informational rights to fight informational imbalances in digital platforms, specially those less private, such as YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok. The recommendation algorithms are a source of problems in our comprehension. On the other hand, we are focusing on improving moderation mechanisms that are less damaging to private messages, such as user report.
- To what Raquel adds: I think that's a big part of the work we're trying to do here, convincing them that some of the measures they want to implement will be used against social movements and journalists, for example. we speak a lot against message traceability measures, for example, which was a proposal that was even approved in the version of the bill that came out of the senate. knowing who sent the first message in a messaging application has several problems linked to it. so we produce a lot of material but the more technical conversation about technology is very difficult to do with legislators. I think the balance is in thinking technical aspects together with political aspects, but it's very difficult to convince them of that.
Weeks ago Brazilian organizations explained their concerns about the risks to freedom of expression and privacy in some regulation proposals, and currently there are several NGO supporting the bill openly. Why is this change?
- Raquel says: I think we understand that the law has some problems, and we are working to try to correct them, although there are political forces very committed to implementing vigilante and anti-rights measures. But companies have neglected several problems that occurred in Brazil, especially during the 2018 and 2022 election periods, in which disinformation guided political debates. There is an understanding that platforms have to be regulated in order to be accountable for their activities. The most controversial issues in the bill relate to side issues, such as copyright, which must be removed from the proposal to be discussed in a specific project. But issues such as transparency, the need to offer the possibility for the user to appeal a content moderation decision, or questions of transparency in relation to advertisements and publicity are very positive points of the law and which we believe are very necessary. The bill's rapporteur is very sympathetic to social movements, we have a very close dialogue with him and he generally agrees with our points, although he has to equalize a lot for political reasons. but it is possible that we have a good law, it will not be perfect, certainly, but I am optimistic about the scenario, after some news of negotiations that were made this week.
- Pedro explains: Firstly, the federal government proposed a substitutive text to the bill, which was deeply problematic. IP.rec produced a critical technical note on this substitutive text, which had risks to e2ee, for an example. On the other hand, the text from the Congress has a advances in reducing platform power and points obligations to platforms, such as responsibilities and transparency. It is documented that platforms are deliberately supporting far right movements, such as illegal neo-Nazi organizations (Nazism is illegal around here). Between immobility and eagerness to make more money from these engaging contents which violates human rights, we know that some changes are needed and this bill is the first step to do it.