Brazil has been caught up in a fresh controversy over attempts to curb online criticism of politicians. This time, the main players are tech giant Google and the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house in the country’s congress. Brazil is already one of the world’s leaders in online content removal.
In early March, the Chamber of Deputies’ Attorney General, Cláudio Cajado, contacted Google in order to request the removal of online videos and content hosted by the company, for being offensive to deputies.
Cajado, a Democratas Party representative from the state of Bahia, denies that his requests were attempts to restrict freedom of expression, and claimed that he only wanted to speed up the processes that, when left to the Justice, could take months — or even years to be solved.
According to Cajado’s office, Google has responded to his requests by being very “thoughtful” in explaining its policies on content removal.
The Attorney General’s office says it receives an average of two complaints per month by the deputies, mainly because of videos uploaded on YouTube, or posts published on its Blogger platform.
The Chamber of Deputies’ Attorney General is responsible for defending the deputies’ honour and the House’s image.
“We seek a partnership [with Google] to set up actions and attitudes, without creating any kind of erosion [of the House’s image] or harsh consequences”, said Cajado to the Chamber of Deputies’ website.
He cited the case of federal deputy and former Rio de Janeiro governor and presidential candidate Anthony Garotinho, who filed a lawsuit against Google demanding the removal of 11 YouTube videos during the 2010 electoral campaign.
“We have to count on Google executives’ good will and on their comprehension over the importance of measures like this to our country’s life and our democracy,” said Cajado.
As he took office as the Chamber’s Attorney General in early March, Cajado also said he planned to ensure that deputies had enough media time to reply to criticism, and plans to do the same online.
All complaints brought by deputies to the Attorney General are analysed by his office’s legal team, to ensure that cases that can lead to actual lawsuits are taken forward.
The most common cases of online attacks brought to the Attorney General’s office are related to slander and — more seriously — crimes against honour, which is a punishable offence according to Brazil’s law.
When it comes to the Brazilian judiciary, rulings about the internet can be very diverse and — sometimes — illogical.
In September 2012, a judge from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul ordered the arrest of Fabio Coelho, Google’s top executive in Brazil, after videos deemed offensive to a mayoral candidate were uploaded to YouTube. When the posts were not immediately deleted, Brazil’s federal police temporarily detained Coelho.
While the Superior Court of Justice has already ruled that internet providers are not obliged to pay reparations to users because of offensive content, the Supreme Court is about to judge if internet companies should supervise information that is published.
This is related to an appeal by Google after the State Justice of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second most populous state, ordered the company to pay BRL 10,000 (around USD $5,000) to an offended user, and to remove content from Orkut, Google’s social network.
The Attorney General’s new initiative has already worried a few of his fellow deputies.
“The Parliament’s best defence is a transparent behaviour, one that seeks the public interest. And anyone that feels injured or vilified can always go to the Justice and seek reparation. I believe the Attorney General should have other priorities.” says Chico Alencar, a Rio de Janeiro representative for the Socialism and Freedom Party, PSOL.
Alencar also fears that these actions taken along with Google could worsen politicians already tarnished public image.
“Public opinion would consider this as censorship and a privilege for people that already have many other privileges. We should learn how to reply to websites by creating another websites and, if that’s the case, asking those who offend us for the right to reply. That would be enough.”
Editor’s note: Google is a funder of Index on Censorship