Brazil to Allow Political Speech on Social-Networking Sites

Law Paves the Way for Obama-Style Strategies in the Country's Election Next Year

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Brazilian President Lula da Silva has approved a law ratifying the freedom of expression on the internet during the elections, rather than extend tight regulation of political speech observed on other media to the web.

Three weeks ago, the Justice and Constitution Commission and the Science and Technology Commission of the Senate presented a law project to restrict free use of the internet during Brazil's highly regulated election period. They proposed to stop Twitter, Orkut -- the leading social network in Brazil -- and other websites and blogs from being used for speaking in favor or against any of the candidates running for president or governor in the 2010 electoral campaign. The bill also stated that only official websites should be allowed to promote an electoral campaign.

But the decision wasn't unanimous and even from the beginning in the Senate the bill encountered several obstacles and generated great polemics.

Arthur Virgilio, leader of Social Democrat Brazilian Party said a few weeks ago: "It is unfair that we don't have freedom in the internet, which was born precisely to be free. The web wasn't born to be controlled. It's abusive to say that the net has to have limits or even regulations. It deserves to fly freely."

Congress ended up modifying the bill drastically to the point that it guarantees that the freedom of expression on the net will remain intact. Mr. da Silva agreed completely and will officially sanction the new law project today.

The prohibition to post paid advertisement on the net will continue to run, even though the initial Senate bill allows presidential candidates to publish up to 24 ads during their electoral campaigns.

"Elections can't be something that scares people this much, up to the extent that they would choose prohibition," Mr. da Silva said. "All our lives we've fought for freedom of communication, and now they intend to start blocking that."

The failed attempt to restrict the use of the internet -- what might have been an obvious reaction to how the internet influenced Barack Obama's victory in the last U.S. elections -- ended in nothing. The success of Mr. Obama's campaign has loomed large in Brazil, with former adviser Ben Self's Blue State Digital firm now reported to be advising likely candidate Dilma Roussef, who would be Brazil's first female president.

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