Brazil Congress moving forward disinformation bill that brings free expression and privacy harms to new levels

Brasília, Brazil — Brazilian senators are expected to vote this Thursday, June 25, on a bill, proposed by Senator Angelo Coronel, aiming to curb the spread of misinformation and illegal content online. It includes draconian measures that would allow for constant monitoring of internet users, weakening of encryption in messaging apps, and mandatory ID registration to access and use social media in the country – among other dangerous provisions.

In discussion since early April, the bill’s supporters rushed it through Congress and fast-tracked revisions up until this week, without properly consulting any civil society, academia, business stakeholders, or technical experts during its development or discussion. This comes in the context of an unprecedented public health crisis as Brazil faces a surge of COVID-19 infections. 

The bill that would seriously harm free expression, privacy, freedom of association, and other human rights. Some of the most dangerous provisions would:

  • Require social media and communication services to collect a valid ID and cell phone number for the creation of accounts; 
  • Demand the mass traceability of messages in messaging apps and “communication systems” in ways that can break privacy-preserving end-to-end encryption; 
  • Enable the suspension of entire internet applications, like WhatsApp or Telegram, at the national level, as a penalty for services who fail to comply with the provisions of the bill, without any valuation about necessity and proportionality; and
  • Risk restricting and criminalizing people’s law-abiding online activity through vague definitions of forbidden behavior.

Brazilian digital rights advocacy group Coalizão Direitos na Rede called attention to what could be “one of the worst internet bills around the world due to the threats to privacy and freedom of expression it poses.” The group also stated, “Brazilian Senators and Parliamentarians need to consider international recommendations on the topic of misinformation instead of promoting a regulation that sets penalties to users based on vague and ambiguous ideas at the risk of revoking fundamental human rights for all Internet users in the country.”

Javier Pallero, Latin America Policy Lead and Global Content Governance Lead at Access Now, added, “In addition to the human rights harms it could enable, the bill will end up entrenching the power of concentrated big tech platforms by statute, by forcing them to collect and manage real ID data and surveil user’s conversations.”

Any content governance legislation should put human rights and the needs of the most vulnerable at their center. Access Now has published a guide for lawmakers on developing rights-respecting content governance frameworks. We urge Brazil’s legislators to stop this dangerous bill, and to open a meaningful, inclusive consultation with civil society as the foundation for all future initiatives, including as part of any COVID-19 response.