Brazilian guarantees net neutrality and allows ISPs to store user data outside Brazil

Out-Law News | 25 Apr 2014 | 10:40 am | 2 min. read

Internet service providers (ISPs) in Brazil will be prevented from giving preferential treatment to content produced by business partners after Brazil's Senate approved legislation which will guarantee net neutrality in the country, Reuters has reported.

But the new law, which has been dubbed Brazil's 'Internet Constitution', will not force global internet companies to store data on their Brazilian users on data servers inside Brazil.

Instead, the bill will require companies such as Google and Facebook to be subject to Brazil's laws and courts in cases which involve information on Brazilians, even if the data is stored on overseas servers.

Under the new legislation ISPs will not be liable for content which is published by users, but will be required to comply with court orders to remove offensive or libellous material.  

The Marco Civil da Internet – or Internet Bill of Rights - will also limit the gathering and use of metadata on internet users in Brazil. Metadata is information about content, such as who created it or what it relates to.

Telecoms companies objected to the provision for net neutrality, which is the principle that ISPs will deliver all content requested by a customer equally, not allowing content producers to have preferential access to subscribers. However the Brazilian government refused to drop the measure, which will bar them from charging higher rates for access to content that uses more bandwidth, such as video streaming and voice services like Skype. 

World wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has described the Brazilian legislation is a "fantastic example of how governments can play a positive role in advancing web rights and keeping the web open", and urged other governments to follow suit, according to technology news service The Register.

Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff signed the bill into law before an audience at Netmundial, a global conference which is being held in Brazil to determine how the internet should be governed. Rouseff called  the conference of international government officials, academics, campaigners and technical experts following revelations by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden that Rouseff's email accounts may have been hacked by the US National Security Agency and that the US also spied on Brazilian state-run oil company Petrobras.

Referring to the leaks, Rousseff told Netmundial:  “In Brazil, citizens, companies, diplomatic representatives, even the president of the republic had their communications intercepted," according to the Financial Times. "This was unacceptable. It runs counter to the nature of the internet – democratic, free and pluralistic."

Following the allegations about US surveillance, Rousseff's government added a proposal to the Marco Civil which would have forced global internet companies to store data on their Brazilian users on data centre servers inside the country. However the government had to drop the bill in order to ensure its passage, according to Reuters. Instead, the bill says that companies such as Google and Facebook will be subject to the laws and courts of Brazil in cases involving information on Brazilians, even where the data is stored on servers outside Brazil.

The signing into law of the Marco Civil comes as the US proposes changes to its own net neutrality laws.  The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing new rules that would allow ISPs  to charge companies such as Netflix and YouTube more to reach consumers at higher speeds or quality, but only if they meet a new standard of “commercial reasonableness” that will be judged by the FCC, reports the Financial Times.

“Broadband providers would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers, along with the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers,” the FCC said according to the newspaper. The FCC would decide whether proposed terms were acceptable on a case-by-case basis.

The FCC is due to vote on the proposals at its meeting on 15 May, and if approved will put the matter out to public comment. Issues to be included in the public consultation include what the baseline level of service should be set at and the specific standards for what would be deemed “commercially reasonable”.

The European Parliament last month voted in favour of telecoms reforms which will ensure net neutrality across the single European market and ban mobile phone roaming charges, among other provisions.