Brazilian lawmakers have proposed at least 18 bills related to the Covid-19 outbreak and technology since March 11, when the disease was declared a pandemic, according to a study by tech activist group Coding Rights.
Through its Radar Legislativo project, Coding Rights has mapped nine bills related to internet access — including proposals to force companies to offer mobile data packages for free during the pandemic and banning the interruption of services — and five about misleading information over public health, including three bills that aim to transform this practice into a crime.
Another four proposals aim to increase the deadline for the General Data Protection Law to take effect, including one bill from Senator Antonio Anastasia that has already been approved by the upper house.
The group warns that, even though such bills are proposed in the context of a public emergency, they may have longstanding impacts on Brazil’s legislation after the end of the outbreak. In this sense, they highlight two identical bills proposed simultaneously in the House and Senate to change Brazil’s Civil Rights Framework of the Internet, adding definitions for bots and botnets, defining responsibilities for app providers, and even regulating fact-checkers.
“Even though it’s justified by the Covid-19 epidemic, presenting misinformation and the virus as a ‘common enemy,’ it’s a bill that clearly targets the electoral context and significantly changes the provisions of responsibilities for intermediates foreseen by the Civil Rights Framework of the Internet”, they wrote.
It’s important to remember that lawmakers have been working remotely during this time, as both the House of Representatives and Senate have held the first online sessions in Brazilian Congress’ history.
In the activists’ view, this is also a concern, as monitoring by advocacy and rights groups becomes harder. In this sense, Coding Rights and other advocacy groups joined the Parliamentary Caucus for the Defense of Democracy and Human Rights in signing an open letter, asking Congress to broadcast sessions, public hearings, meetings, and votes, as well as increasing the efforts to publicize channels for people to take part in debates.