For many years, Latin America’s largest democracy was a leader on data governance. In 1995, it created the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, a multi-stakeholder body to help the country set principles for internet governance. In 2014, Dilma Rousseff’s government pioneered the Marco Civil (Civil Framework), an internet “bill of rights” lauded by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Four years later, Brazil’s congress passed a data protection law, the LGPD, closely modeled on Europe’s GDPR.
Recently, though, the country has veered down a more authoritarian path. Even before the pandemic, Brazil had begun creating an extensive data-collection and surveillance infrastructure. In October 2019, President Jair Bolsonaro signed a decree compelling all federal bodies to share most of the data they hold on Brazilian citizens, from health records to biometric information, and consolidate it in a vast master database, the Cadastro Base do Cidadão (Citizen’s Basic Register). With no debate or public consultation, the measure took many people by surprise.
In lowering barriers to the exchange of information, the government says, it hopes to increase the quality and consistency of data it holds. This could—according to the official line—improve public services, cut down on voter fraud, and reduce bureaucracy. In a country with some 210 million people, such a system could speed up the delivery of social welfare and tax benefits, and make public policies more efficient.
But critics have warned that under Bolsonaro’s far-right leadership, this concentration of data will be used to abuse personal privacy and civil liberties. And the covid-19 pandemic appears to be accelerating the country’s slide toward a surveillance state. Read the full story.