Brazilian Senate overthrows presidential decision to limit content removal from social networks

The Brazilian Senate has rejected the provisional measure introduced by president Jair Bolsonaro aimed to limit the content removal power from social networks.

The president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, announced the decision on Tuesday (14) following intense criticism from fellow senators over the presidential move. The ruling overthrows Bolsonaro’s attempt to impose a series of hurdles to social media platforms to remove potentially false or harmful content, accounts, profiles and users, announced a week earlier.

The provisional measure, effective immediately, needed Congress approval within 120 days to become a permanent item of the legislation – otherwise, it would expire after that timeframe. With the decision announced by Pacheco as the leader of the government’s legislative branch, the presidential decision will not be voted by the Congress and therefore loses its validity.

In a document forwarded to the presidential office, Pacheco noted the changes proposed by Bolsonaro with immediate effectiveness promoted “unexpected changes” to the legislation in place, with “a tight deadline for adaptation”. He also noted the immediate liability for non-compliance with the provisions set out in the provisional measure, “generates considerable legal uncertainty for the agents subject to it.”

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In addition, Brazilian Federal Supreme Court minister Rosa Weber also suspended the effectiveness of the provisional measure in response to the request of the Attorney General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, who recommended the suspension of the presidential decision.

Bolsonaro’s decision to edit the set of rules that govern the Internet in Brazil since 2014 was presented as a means to ensure freedom of expression online. It was also seen as a move to support presidential allies, which had content removed by platforms, and to facilitate the spread of false information and hate speech.

The president himself had 15 videos spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic removed from YouTube and had been expressing his dissatisfaction about the platforms’ terms. Bolsonaro was also accused of illegal campaigning tactics using messaging service WhatsApp during the last presidential elections.

The Brazilian Association of the Information Technology Companies (Assespro) welcomed the Senate decision: “We believe the decision of the president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, was correct. We are open to debating whatever project that may continue this discussion”, said Italo Nogueira, president at Assespro.

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