SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies from charging for preferential access to their networks.
The law signed by President Dilma Rousseff at a global conference on the future of Internet governance puts Brazil in the vanguard of online consumer protection and what is known as "net neutrality," whose promoters consider it profoundly democratic in part because it keeps financial barriers for innovators low.
The new law promotes privacy by limiting the data that online companies can collect on Internet users in this nation of 200 million people, deeming communications over the Internet "inviolable and secret." Service providers must develop protocols to ensure email can be read only by senders and their intended recipients. Violators are subject to penalties including fines and suspension.
The law obliges Internet companies, however, to hold on to user data for six months and hand it over to law enforcement under court order.
Enactment of the law, which won final legislative approval in the Senate late Tuesday, coincided with Brazil's hosting of a global conference widely seen as an effort to chart a path for a less U.S.-centric Internet and attended by high-level delegations from countries including Germany and the United States.
Brazil cast itself as a defender of Internet freedom after revelations last year that the U.S. National Security Agency had spied on Rousseff, her close advisers and Brazilian commercial interests, including the state-run oil company Petrobras.
Rousseff canceled a state visit to the U.S. in October over the disclosures, the result of damaging leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. She said she would promote more home-grown Internet services beginning with a national email service, and make Brazil's piece of the global Internet less U.S.-dependent, in part by laying an undersea cable to Europe. The bulk of Latin America's Internet traffic passes through the United States.
Attendees among the more than 800 people who filled a hotel ballroom at the NETMundial forum Wednesday generally praised Rousseff.
"It is a fantastic example of how governments can play a positive role in advancing Web rights and keeping the Web open," said the World Wide Web's inventor, Tim Berners-Lee.
Rousseff called the law's "net neutrality" clause "fundamental to maintaining the Internet's free and open nature." It bars companies that sell Internet service from turning their networks into toll roads.