Inventive censorship, and the case for anonymity

This page is suspended by a legal precautionary measure and the site content is being analysed for criminal evidencesBrazil got used to being recognized for its Internet savvy and large population of early web-adopters. Nevertheless, or maybe exactly because of that, the country is rapidly becoming a haven for novel and inventive models and tactics of Internet censorship.

A quick search on ‘brazil’ + ‘censorship’ in Global Voices returns a bunch of scary titles posted just in the last 6 months: Dismissal of Brazilian Blogger: Censorship or Just Business? (March 23rd), Bloggers united against WordPress ban (April 12th), First blog falls victim to electoral law (June 1st), Blogging Against Web-Censorship (June 19th), Bloggers question the 13 new cyber-crimes (July 17th), Electoral censorship at work (July 22nd).

This time, the weird news sprouts from the state of Minas Gerais, where governor Aécio Neves is carefully preparing himself to run as presidential candidate in 2010, when Lula leaves office. In the midst of country-wide municipal elections, the opposing online journal ‘Novo Jornal’ was taken down by state level prosecutors — the Public Ministry — on (refuted) charges of anonymity.

Truth is that the Brazilian Constitution sets up an unusually twisted situation, especially for online speech: free expression of thought is assured in the same paragraph where anonymity is formally forbidden. Still, the seizure of ‘Novo Jornal’ is calling the attention of the blogosphere for the inventive strategy of using state level prosecutors and cybercrime allegations to immediately take down an informative website without the proper legal process. Blogs are also pointing out the fact that the mainstream media has been silent about the case — in what has started to appear as a pattern when it comes to negative coverage on Aécio Neves.

The matrix-like display (picture above) forced upon ‘NovoJornal’s web page sets the tone.

The State Prosecutor’s consideration is stated on O Tempo’s website: “Once the criminal investigation procedure started, it was found that there is no identification of who is in charge of the site — which labels itself as a Journal — resulting in a frontal violation of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees the free expression of thought but forbids anonymity, and also the Press Law, which applies to the Internet”… Apart from [issues of] political partisanship, journalistic viewpoint or anonymity, the one thing I perceive is that the arms of censorship are reaching out, and history tells us that they are usually utilized by the ones in power, and rarely for good reasons. More than debating the merits of the case, it is important to stay alert and be on guard. Thinking about it… wouldn’t that be the role of the State Prosecutors, and from the other side, of the media?
There are people who think censorship is something from the

At the moment it was taken down, the ‘Novo Jornal’ website was displaying on it’s home page an article heavily criticizing the Federal Supreme Court president, Gilmar Mendes. The article can still be read in Google’s cache. “Novo Jornal” also decried that Aécio Neves payed US$ 269 million of Globo TV Network’s debts on the purchase of Light [Electric Company].
Brought down news website denouncing Aécio NevesO Biscoito Fino e a Massa

Contrary to the State Prosecutor’s arguments, “Novo Jornal” was strictly under the law, with it’s Director in Charge registered at the Regional Labor Office, holding the MTE nº 000311/MG, what puts him in charge of all the non-signed articles published at “Novo Jornal”… That’s how it is proved that there never was no anonymity as stated by the State Prosecutors. NovoJornal’s Director in Charge and it’s address are also listed at, the official registry for all Internet sites in Brazil.
NovoJornal remains censored by Aecio NevesEm cima da notícia

Aren’t there more important issues for the Public Ministry of Minas to investigate than to censor the Internet, following governor’s orders, disguised as an action against Cybercrime?
In the land of a presidential candidate, you censor the opposition as cybercrimeRastreadores de Impurezas

As bloggers were quick to notice
, there are some other things being done in Brazil (see also: “Bloggers question the 13 new cyber-crimes“, “The cost of the cybercrime bill“, “Cybercrime bill is now translated“) disguised as actions against Cybercrime.

In NovaE digital magazine there is a long article from blogger José de Souza Castro, the first to find out that “NovoJornal” was brought down by a legal action, where he starts to delve deeper in the details, which leads him to link this particular process to the siege that is being engineered in Brazil against Internet liberties [the Cybercrime Bill]:

“The government of Minas Gerais seemed to be in a haste to settle this issue with ‘Novo Jornal’. According to ‘O Tempo’, “the Cybercrime Combat State Prosecutors was created in Belo horizonte on July 16th this year. In face of the rampant number of crimes practiced by network users, the State Public Ministry has decided for its deployment. The Cybercrime Prosecutor acts as a support to justice prosecutors working on the criminal sector, and streamlines attendance to victims.” The newspaper adds, quoting someone identified as Vanessa Fusco: “The strategy is to act pro-actively in confronting this type of crime, which keeps growing mainly with the arrival of broadband to the interior”. And it oncludes: “A project authored by Senator Eduardo Azeredo (PSDB) seeks (or sought) to define and list the criminal acts performed on the Internet” (Novae’s text)”

Internet censorship in Minas GeraisEm busca da palavra justa

The ‘NovoJornal’s case is also
showing that, despite what the constitution provides on the matter of free speech, ‘anonymity’ may play an important role as a ‘checks and balance’ element in a democratic public space. The video below shows NovoJornal’s Director in Charge, Marco Aurélio Carone, answering why the articles on the site have no attribution and are not signed. The interview was published on YouTube some weeks before ‘NovoJornal’ was censored.

If you’ve managed to follow along
this far, you will surely want to watch the video below, made by the Brazilian Daniel Florêncio for Current.TV, and presented as “an investigation into the seemingly increasingly curtailed press in Brazil”. But first, a blogger account to add context:

Florêncio’s report was ‘born’ from the documentary “Liberdade, essa palavra“ (Freedom, this word), produced in 2006 by then journalism student Marcelo Baêta… Both Baêta’s documentary and Daniel’s report had repercussions in the national and international media (Folha de Sao Paulo and Le Monde published articles on the case), that generated sharp responses from Aécio’s partisans, who used the same tool, the YouTube, for defense… After seeing all the case’s related videos (see more here), I was puzzled by something: did the journalists really ‘take their asses off the line’ in the case?
Minas Gerais, the censorship and the state of

You may want also to watch the video response to the’s piece.

The viral spread of Internet participation across the Brazilian population is producing quite a shaking in the established realms of media, politics and courts. But it is exactly this kind of upheaval that generates the discourse necessary to the discovery of balanced protocols for managing the contradictions revealed by the age of information. Stay tuned — this is an ongoing process.

There is a backup of [NovoJornal] site on
Comment from Winston in Brought down news website denouncing Aécio NevesO Biscoito Fino e a Massa