Brazil Shows How Not to Respond to Snowden Revelations


During Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony, Laura Poitras took the Oscar home for her Citizenfour documentary. The 114 minute-long feature gives us an idea of what National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden endured as he made his revelations public with the help of former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald.

Edward Snowden has often been the target of both harsh criticism and praise for giving us the opportunity to learn more about sweeping surveillance programs that affect both foreigners and US citizens. But reports concerning the negative impact his revelations have had on domestic policy outside of the United States are seldom brought to light.

Brazil Holds the Internet Hostage

In the film, Greenwald is shown giving a speech before the Brazilian Senate on what the revelations meant to Brazilian internet and phone users.

As he addressed an audience that included lawmakers, members of the press, and ordinary Brazilians wearing Edward Snowden masks, he warned them of Brazil’s vulnerability. The widespread and invasive nature of the NSA program, Greenwald claimed, could expose data pertaining to innocent Brazilians, putting their privacy at risk.

Senator Eduardo Suplicy wears an Edward Snowden mask. Photo from O Globo (
Senator Eduardo Suplicy holds an Edward Snowden mask. (O Globo)

For Brazilian citizens, however, events that took place after this speech unfortunately had the exact opposite effect that many expected, especially for those close to Snowden like Greenwald himself.

Consider the “Civil Rights Framework for the Internet” (Marco Civil da Internet). When Greenwald spoke to the nation, senators were already lobbying their colleagues to vote in favor of the bill.

Amid criticism, social-democratic members introduced changes to the bill. To critics, though, holding the law proposal under heightened scrutiny only made the piece of legislation even worse. But how bad was it in the first place? According to‘s Andrei Moreira, very bad.

From a piece he wrote on March 25, 2014:

What the law says, and even perhaps [what] those who drafted the bill defended, are tainted with good intentions and that is seen in the proposed regulations. But do good intentions ensure the results are going to benefit the Brazilian citizen, or perhaps ensure the control over the internet is “fair”? That’s very unlikely.

According to Moreira, the Marco Civil law determines that only the Brazilian government has the authority to claim an online service is acting fairly. To proponents of the law, that’s what net neutrality is all about.

The law states that foreign actors are also prohibited from blocking, banning, or spying on Brazilian internet users. But how is the government going to ensure that? By stating that only the Brazilian government has the knowledge and authority to determine whether a particular service provider is not jeopardizing the user’s privacy.

Critics rightly point out that this approach opens the door for favoritism.

Web Freedom under Threat

Instead of leaving the regulations over the online market up to the consumer, the Brazilian government used the information made available by Greenwald and Snowden to increase public support for greater state control over the internet.

In spite of the warnings, the great majority of Brazilians supported the legislation. But unfortunately for consumers, the results of the “internet constitution” that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed into law on April 23, 2014, are already being felt.

According to, for example, the Marco Civil law prohibits private companies from offering open and free access to the Internet. As a result, a project that would offer free access to Wikipedia content through a smartphone app might never see the light of day. The “Project Wikipedia Zero” goes against the new internet code simply because customers cannot have free access to social networks.

To the Brazilian legislature, the open access to just Wikipedia contradicts the idea of a neutral network.

Edward Snowden offered US citizens a great opportunity to learn just how far their agencies will go to undermine citizen privacy. But he also inadvertently furnished the Brazilian state propaganda machine with enough ammunition to fire up its own hostile takeover of the internet.

Let’s hope that critics will continue the fight to bring the Marco Civil law down in the future.

Edited by Laurie Blair and Fergus Hodgson.

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