How Brazil Crowdsourced a Pioneering Law
The passage of the Marco Civil da Internet, an “Internet bill of rights” commonly referred to in English as the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, demonstrates how the Internet can be used to rejuvenate democratic governance in the digital age. The law is important not only for its content, but for the innovative and participatory way it was written, bypassing traditional modes of legislation-making to go directly to the country’s citizens. At a moment when governments of all kinds are viewed as increasingly distant from ordinary people, Brazil’s example makes an argument that democracy offers a way forward.
The pioneering law was signed in 2014 and has three components. First, it safeguards privacy by restricting the ability of private corporations and the government to store Internet users’ browsing histories. Second, it mandates a judicial review of requests to remove potentially offensive or illegal material, including content that infringes copyrights. And third, it prohibits Internet service providers from manipulating data transfer speeds for commercial purposes. The bill was acclaimed by activists as an example the rest of the world should follow.
What makes this law even more interesting is that it became one of the largest-ever experiments in crowdsourcing legislation. The law’s original text was written through a website that allowed individual citizens and organizations — including NGOs, businesses, and political parties — to interact with one another and publicly debate the law’s content. This process was markedly different from the traditional method of writing bills “behind closed doors” in the halls of Congress, a process that favored well-connected families and large corporations.
Policymakers in other countries have tried to capture citizen input using social media before, but never on this scale, in a country of roughly 200 million people. Whether it would succeed was far from certain. During the website’s public launch, in 2009, one of the government lawyers summed up the organizers’ high hopes: “This experience could transform the way we discuss not just legislation about the Internet, but also the way we discuss other bills in Brazil, and, in so doing, reconfigure our democracy.”
Adapted from http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/19/how-brazil-crowdsourced-a-landmark-law/