Authoriterrorism and surveillance, the Brazilian way

Brazil, July 7, 2008—Pressure from banks against on-line fraud, already covered by existing law, is being used as excuse to push through major threats to society. Puppets in the Brazilian Senate are about to approve a bill supported by banking and copyright profiteers in detriment of freedom and privacy of the people they were elected to serve and represent. Bill 89/2003 criminalizes day-to-day Internet activities, and it is likely to be voted in the Senate this week.,-sou-contra (in Portuguese) (about an earlier draft of the bill) (in Portuguese)

The bill introduces on-line surveillance, demanding networking service providers to record customers' every on-line activity, and to share with authorities logs and received reports of possibly-illicit activities. The wording is so broad that providers may be heftily fined if they fail to retain, for at least 3 years, a copy of every packet that crosses its network. Even more serious than the costs and risks, imposed on service providers, is the danger to users' privacy, by the assurance of possibility of retroactive wiretapping of every VoIP phone call, every e-mail or instant message sent or received, every visited web-page and every on-line transaction.

It further establishes jail time for such broad activities as unauthorized access to computer systems, networks, and data stored in them. In spite of being justified and promoted by banks on the grounds of stopping criminals from obtaining, selling or destroying information through fraud or exploitation of vulnerabilities, it is worded so ambiguously that it can be easily abused by suppliers of electronic equipment (computers such as servers, desktops, laptops, video games, cell phones, digital cameras, media players and recorders, etc) and of digitally-encoded information (text, audio, video, software, etc).

Abuses may range from legal threats to actual jail time for people who unlock video games or cell phones to install software not approved by the supplier; who work around deliberate defects in media players or recorders to gain access to their own songs or movies stored in them; who use copyrighted works in ways that do not infringe on copyrights, but that authoriterrorists would like to outlaw.

Authoriterrorism is the practice of (i) mislabeling as property a limited monopoly granted by society as a means to get, after an originally short period of deprivation, more creative works available for all to enjoy and build upon; (ii) promoting the extension of the monopoly and other authoritarian laws that grant authoriterrorists technical and legal means to steal from society the fulfillment of the goal of copyrights; (iii) using these technical and legal measures and scare tactics to stop people from using works in ways that fall outside the scope or the period of the monopoly; (iv) brainwashing people so they believe they don't and shouldn't have the right to use works in these ways, that it would somehow harm authors (as if authoriterrorists didn't), and that it is the moral equivalent of invading ships, stealing the cargo and enslaving or murdering the crew. (in Portuguese)

But we should think for a moment about who is invading our homes, building spies and policemen into our electronic equipment; tying our hands, and putting on blinds and gags on us through this same equipment, stealing through force our fair use rights and the public domain; enslaving us by ensuring we can only do what they want us to do, and killing our wish to fight for our rights by fooling us into feeling guilty. Who are the real pirates, and who is really being harmed?

Bills that would give even more power to the powerful authoritarian intermediaries, that exploit authors and terrorize society, appear to not be in short supply these days. Rushing them to approval, avoiding public debate, appears to be a common trait for such bills that harm society.

Representatives in democratic governments ought to remember what democracy stands for, that the law in a democratic state is supposed to benefit society, and resist the pressure and the lobbying to grant any authoriterrorist even more power over the people they represent.

Fraud, blackmail, violation of privacy and of trade secrets are already crimes, regardless of whether they're perpetrated on-line, and they haven't prevented Brazilian banks from making huge and growing profits.

Permanent on-line surveillance is too much of a privacy threat to be regarded as a potential solution for these crimes, rather than a problem on its own, and there is no doubt that the availability of all this information will be abused by authoriterrorists as well.

We beg good-faith legislators and other government officials to try to stop the rush for approval of this terrible bill, to make room for public debate and to separate the needed juridic advances from the redundancies and the erosion of citizens' rights. We further beg for help in bringing this urgent issue to the public's attention, lifting the apparent gag order upon the national press, and bringing to public shame any legislator who sells out and votes into law this anti-democratic weapon of mass criminalization.

About Free Software Foundation Latin America

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Copyright 2008 FSFLA

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