Tech giant Google is in the middle of a censorship debate in Brazil after its top executive in the country was temporarily detained during the latest mayoral election.
Fabio Coelho was detained in September by order of a judge from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. He demanded the removal of YouTube videos considered offensive against Alcides Bernal, the mayoral candidate of state capital Campo Grande. Since the video wasn’t promptly deleted, Coelho was held responsible.
He was questioned by federal police and released shortly after.
Brazilian law is extremely rigid about offensive material aimed at political candidates. But many view some of the judges’ attitudes in these cases as excessive and often times myopic.
In a statement issued in September, Coelho said the episode had “intimidating effects” on freedom of expression. He claimed the videos were “legitimate manifestations of free speech” and should be kept available.
“There are gaps in Brazil’s electoral legislation that make this kind of situation possible”, said Google Brazil’s Public Policy Senior Counsel Marcel Leonardi about Coelho’s arrest. He added:
We hope this episode puts a light on the need to adjust Brazil’s law, so that legitimate political outcries from internet users can be differentiated from, say, unlawful propaganda. The dynamics of the internet need to be understood.
In November, lobbying by telecom companies in the Brazilian Congress’s lower house killed a draft bill known as the “internet bill of rights”, a civil rights framework to guarantee basic rights for internet users, content creators and online intermediaries.
Google says Brazil is one of the countries that has the most cases of site removal requests made by government agencies.