The Rio Olympics have captured the world’s attention and with this attention certain unappealing realities about Brazil’s culture and state of development have come to light. Everyone knows about the abhorrent living conditions in the city, the un-swimmable water (let alone drinkable), and the rampant Zika virus; but the latest development might just be the nail in the coffin.
A digital rights group AccessNow started a petition to make sure the Brazilian government doesn’t turn off the internet. But that’s not a thing Brazil would do right? (Would I really be writing about it if it wouldn’t happen?)
Wrong (you guessed it). It could shut down the entire internet, or just block certain sites, as it has done repeatedly. Like the multiple times it has blocked the popular encrypted messaging app, What’sApp, in the course of a single year, in an attempt to force the company to release user data during a criminal investigation.
The Brazilian Supreme Court overturned the website block the same day it was issued, on the grounds that it violated constitutionally protected free expression, as well as Brazil’s net neutrality law, Marco Civil.
Now with the entire world watching and more than 500,000 visitors in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics, it’s unlikely that Brazilian authorities will try to censor the internet during the games. However, it could …very easily. That’s because Brazil’s internet infrastructure is particularly malleable. If a government does order a shutdown, in only a few minutes’ internet providers are given the order and can block information at any point along the network.
Internet Censorship is not all that Uncommon
Although access to What’sApp was quickly restored in Brazil, government censorship of the internet is not unusual elsewhere around the globe.
There were nearly 30 incidents of multiple governments tampering with the flow of information. Take for instance India ordered a mobile internet blackout last month after authorities killed a famous political dissident, or when the Republic of Congo shut off the internet to prevent “illegal reporting of ballot numbers” during their elections.
And while the Brazilian Supreme Court reversal does make it much more unlikely that a judge or other government agency will enact any restrictions, the possibility of it is still cause for concern.