Friday, July 3, 2020

Brazil's Senate passes controversial disinformation bill (July 3, 2020)

Brazil's Senate approved a new bill that targets disinformation yesterday. The controversial proposal has been opposed by President Jair Bolsonaro, as well as freedom of speech advocates, reports AFP.

“Instead of a meaningful dialogue on how to tackle disinformation, we have a Bill being pushed through parliament, which contains extreme measures that change every week," said Article 19's South America Director Denise Dora, who urged lawmakers to "start a proper dialogue on how to tackle disinformation that includes all stakeholders, including civil society and academics.”

One of the bill's most controversial articles would require social media platforms to make supposedly confidential messages available to the judiciary for three months, including the identity of senders. The bill would also require internet providers to allow courts remote access to their databases. Proponents argue it’s key to both tracking the spread of disinformation and holding disinformers accountable.

But free speech advocates say bill's effect would be to create a "massive surveillance network," according to Poynter. Tai Nalon, founder of Brazilian fact-checking organization Aos Fatos, said the bill doesn’t adequately define the government’s authority — making it vulnerable to abuse. Natália Leal, content director at fact-checking network Agência Lupa, added the council could potentially regulate fact-checkers by creating a government definition for fact-checking, or raising official doubts about the importance of their work. 

Last month Human Rights Watch warned that the proposal would "unnecessarily restrict and penalize legally protected speech and freedom of association, including with prison terms, and undermine the privacy of communications." (See last Thursday's briefs.)

Some of the major concerns involve overly broad definitions that are likely to be misinterpreted, and obligations to companies that undermine online freedom of expression and privacy of users, according to Article 19.

Platforms that fail to respect the new rules would be liable for fines of up to 10 percent of their annual turnover in Brazil.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and WhatsApp insisted in a joint statement last week that the measure "attacks the fundamental right to privacy and the protection of data ... opening the way for abuse."

According to the proposals, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should also find ways to identify the dissemination of false content through automated means and limit the number of accounts controlled by the same user, reports ZD-Net.

In addition, there are several requirements companies would have to comply with: among the provisions, firms would need to ban inauthentic accounts set up with the purpose of spreading false content, as well as the use of bots if automated content is not clearly marked as such. The requirement for labeling would also apply for sponsored content.

News Briefs

  • The World Bank expects a GDP recession of more than seven percent in Latin America and the Caribbean -- the worst downturn since reliable data began in 1901, reports Bloomberg. The drop in commodity exports based on a plunge in demand in advanced economies, coupled with the collapse of tourism, is hammering the region, said World Bank President David Malpass in a Wednesday webcast hosted by the Council of the Americas.
  • The United Nations warned yesterday that the pandemic is increasing hunger in the region: "The fallout from the pandemic is being felt hardest in Latin America," the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement. "[Latin America] has seen an almost three-fold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance, and among urban communities in low and middle-income countries, which are being dragged into destitution by job losses and a precipitous drop in remittances." CNN notes that unemployment has hit hard even in countries that have sought to reopen their economies, or never shut them down fully. In Brazil, a record 7.8 million people lost work between March and May.
  • The international community must support a deal aimed at easing Venezuela's humanitarian crisis, argue Tamara Taraciuk (HRW) and Kathleen Page (Johns Hopkins University) in the Washington Post. A June agreement between Venezuela's opposition and Maduro government paves the way to coordinate obtaining funds to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. (See June 4's briefs.) "The agreement could make a huge difference in Venezuela’s response to the pandemic, but only if it is sufficiently funded, properly carried out and adequately supervised by an independent third party," write Taraciuk and Page.
  • Earlier this week Venezuela's electoral authorities announced that the numer of seats in the National Assembly will be increased in the next election. (See Wednesday's post.) The reason for this change is unclear, as Venezuela’s population has actually decreased due to massive emigration, write  David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Venezuela’s opposition-held National Assembly named three new members to an ad-hoc board of directors for state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela. The group is key as it controls some of the company’s most important overseas assets in representation of National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, recognized by over 60 countries as the country's legitimate leader. (Reuters)
  • Russia disclosed terms of a previously agreed debt restructuring with Venezuela that show annual payments from Caracas to Moscow increase five fold starting in 2023. (Reuters)
  • Looking ahead at the U.S. presidential election, David Smilde warns Joe Biden against trying to "outhawk" Trump in Responsible Statecraft.
  • Mexico's health system has not been overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients, even though there have been three times the deaths initially predicted by health officials. Part of the reason hospital beds are widely available is that the Mexican government chose to invest in those rather than testing, early on in the pandemic, reports the Washington Post. But other experts question the wisdom of the approach, saying the government ignored other key policies such as abundant testing, contact tracing and physical distancing.
  • Political crisis, poverty and an underprepared health system are undermining Bolivia's early lockdown health benefits, reports the Guardian.
  • Funerary services in Bolivia's Cochabamba region are overwhelmed, forcing families to live with the corpses of their loved ones for days, report EFE. This situation is aggravated by neighbors’ fears that the deceased will “contaminate” them and the families’ fears the neighbors will react violently.
  • Peruvians left their homes en masse yesterday, as the country lifted a coronavirus that lasted 106 days in many parts of the country, reports the Associated Press. Peru is still reporting 400 new confirmed cases a day and experts warn against ending the stay-at-home orders.
  • Santiago Manuin, an indigenous leader who fought for the land rights of Amazonian communities in Peru, died of Covid-19 this week. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that at least 20,000 people are infected in the Amazon River basin, where some areas are only accessible by boat. (AFP)
  • Guyana should act quickly to limit potential "resource curse" effects on a political system where institutions are already fragile and prone to corruption, writes Jason Keene at the Global Anticorruption Blog.
  • The U.S. Trump administration added FINCINMEX, the main Cuban processor of remittances, to the list of entities no one in the U.S. can do business with. The new sanction could potentially cut off $3.7 billion in remittances that Cuban Americans send to family on the island each year, at a time when the Cuban economy is already reeling from the shutdown of the tourism industry because of COVID-19, writes William LeoGrande for the Sun Sentinel.
  • Pandemic has cut Cuba off from a major lifeline, "mules" who bring in goods and cash, reports the Economist.
  • Kidnappings are increasingly common in Haiti, "a potent symbol of Haiti’s ongoing political and socioeconomic instability, which has left millions unemployed, frustrated and desperate," according to Global Press Journal.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.



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