Thursday, December 31, 2020

Internet privacy in Brazil: An example of already weakened state of Democracy

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Vaishnavi Krishna Mohan

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Internet privacy in Brazil: An example of already weakened state of Democracy

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Global Views 360

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December 31, 2020

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Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro and Hamilton Mourāu in presidential inauguration ceremony | Source: J. Batista/Câmara dos Deputados via Wikimedia

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro’s ascent to power attracted international attention for their potential impact on human rights. His highly controversial positions on Brazil’s past military dictatorship, civil rights and his greater support for conservative agenda is very likely to jeopardize freedom of expression and the nation’s fragile democracy. Bolsonaro’s ascent to power has not been welcomed by people around the globe.  His blind eye towards democracy has created a human rights crisis in Brazil. In 2017, violence reached a new record in the books of Brazil with an estimated 64,000 killings. More than 1.2 million cases of domestic violence were pending in the courts at the start of 2018. About 5,144 people were killed due to police brutality in 2017 and weakening state control of prisons has facilitated gang recruitments. Brazil has lost over 100,000 people to COVID-19, the pandemic which Bolsonaro strongly repudiated as a conspiracy. The president’s desperate authoritarian attempts to forcibly seize control has pushed the nation into a political crisis inter alia free fall of the economy, a pandemic, a human rights crisis and a democratic recession. “This is the worst crisis Brazil has faced in its history. It’s a political crisis, an economic crisis, and a public health crisis. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I can’t think of another moment when the country was in worse shape than it is right now.” These are the exact words of Professor James Green, a Brazilian studies teacher at Brown University, a man who has lived through the military dictatorship in Brazil which lasted from 1964 to 1985.

Amidst these crises, Bolsonaro has periled the integrity and autonomy of Brazil’s most vital democratic institutions. In May 2020, the scandalous president even contemplated ramping up the military to shut down Brazil’s Supreme Court as they continued investigations into his network of advisors and his family. The anti-terrorism bills pushed in the senate after the ascent of Bolsonaro is another key example of endangerment to democracy. The vague and broad definitions of terrorism in the bill potentially criminalizes protests and even basic social movements. These are inconsistent with the standard of precision that Brazilian criminal law maintains. The capricious characterization of a “terrorist act” leaves the door open to subjective and arbitrary decisions which is not new to the nation.

The anti-terrorism bill says that it is “terrorist act” to interfere or tamper computer systems or databases with any political or ideological motivation even without a malicious intent. This would jeopardize the work of several security researchers and journalists in Brazil. Unfortunately, they are not alone.

On 30th June 2020, the Senate of brazil passed the PLS 2630/2020   (Law of Freedom, Liability, and Transparency on the Internet) popularly known as the fake-news law. Fake news has definitely been a problem all over the world. 17 states have passed some form of regulation directing disinformation during the pandemic. The term “fake-news” has been engraved in the global political discourse in the last half decade. With the decline in global levels of press freedom, the domino effect of so-called “fake-news laws” is attracting some serious risks to press freedom and freedom of expression. It is certain that Bolsonaro took advantage of the pandemic situation and passed the fake-news law with the excuse of COVID-19 misinformation. There are several underlying concerns and apprehensions about this law.

  1. Traceability requirements for private messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal would require the apps to store the logs and records of “broadcasted messages” which implies all the messages sent by over 5 users which reaches at least 1000 people within the span of three months. Messaging service companies are required to report most of the information to the government of Brazil hence creating a centralized log of data interactions. This breaks the end-to-end encryption service provided to the users by some of the messaging apps. If companies do not oblige to weaken the technical protection given to the users of Brazil, the bill forces them to leave the country.
    This imposition of “tech mandate” was condemned by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as they called it out for weakening privacy protection. Attached to this is a “technical capability derivative”, whether or not platforms will be able to trace back individual messages.
  1. Article 37 of the law mandates all the private messaging and social networking apps having a customer base in Brazil to appoint a legal representative who will have the power to remotely access user logs and databases. This pseudo attempt to localize the measures not just gives rise to privacy concerns but also questions if the Brazilian Senate has undermined United States’ laws such as Electronic Communication Privacy Act and CLOUD Act. Both of these laws mandate US-based social networking service providers to follow and check certain legal safeguard before handing the private data to any foreign law enforcement agents.
  1. If any social media account is reported to be inauthentic or automated, the online platform would have to confirm the identity of the user and verify the identity with any government ID in Brazil or a passport for a foreigner. The government can also demand confirmation of identity for any account through the means of a court order. This provision broadly attacks anonymity and privacy of users online and ignores its benefits on the internet such as whistle blowing and protection from stalkers.
  1. This law also makes it illegal to create or share any content online which may pose a risk to” economic order or social peace” in Brazil. Both of these terms are vaguely defined and even vaguely present. This opens gates to a wide range of content creators to be called out as “illegal”. The law also criminalizes intentionally being a member of an online group whose main activity is sharing defamatory content. This includes all meme groups which primarily share memes about anyone in an authoritative position in Brazil. This definitely puts a subjective cap and poses significant challenges to the freedom of expression and restricts basic ability of Brazilians to engage in discourse on online platforms.

The fake-news law makes social media companies legally liable for content published online on their platforms which acts as an incentive to them to restrict the freedom of speech of Brazilians at the time of any social or political unrest or even times like the present. While Brazil faces a real problem of fake news, this hastily written statute is not the right solution. At the time of a pandemic, when most of the world is functioning on a virtual sphere, the reckless fake-news law has added weight onto the fragile thread holding Brazil’s democracy. Jair Bolsonaro has managed to push democracy to a breaking point even without the drastic steps that he earlier contemplated.

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January 17, 2021 12:28 PM

Storming of the Capitol Hill and the Anatomy of Trumpism

On January 6, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters marched towards the Capitol Hill and stormed the building after outgoing President Donald Trump allegedly incited the crowd during his speech. It is also being called one of the worst security breaches in American history.

One of the often-cited reason for the insurrection is the idea of “Trumpism.” Therefore, this article explores what happened at the Capitol Hill in light of the idea of Trumpism.

What happened that led to the storming of the US Capitol?

Prior to the storming, the protesters assembled on the South Lawn for the 'Save America March'  where President Trump, his lawyer and advisor Rudy Giuliani, and others gave speeches. There,  Giuliani called the election results “crooked” and Trump, who gave the speech behind a glass barrier, declared that he would “never concede”, criticised the media by calling it “fake” and “biased”, and wrongly claimed that the Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the election results. He also went on to tell the crowd to “fight like hell”.

Storming at Capitol Hill | Source: Tyler Merbler via Flickr

After the rally, the crowd of supporters instigated by Trump marched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol Hill and breached security, occupying parts of the building for several hours. They did this in an effort to disrupt the electoral college vote count during a joint session of the Congress and prevent the formalization of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. They ransacked and vandalised several parts of the building including the senate chamber and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. They allegedly wanted to “hang” Vice President Mike Pence and also chanted the slogan “Where is Pence?” The vice president had been whisked to a secure location in the Capitol complex. Apart from that, they were chanting the slogans “stop the steal” and “USA,USA”, among others.

The rioters left the Capitol Hill after hours of looting and riots. It led to 5 deaths, out of which one was a police officer. After the rioting was over, the senate continued its session and declared Biden as the President. It also concluded that there was no voter fraud. There have been many arrests since then and police is still searching for more.


Why do Trump’s supporters believe him?

A supporter of Donald Trump | Source: Lorie Shaull via Flickr

They believe in something which is nowadays termed ‘Trumpism'. Trumpism is a term for the political ideology, type of governance, political movement and set of mechanisms for acquiring and keeping power that are associated with the 45th United States president, Donald Trump and his political base. It is a kind of American politics that is right wing to far-right, and has nationalist sentiments. His ideologies are also believed to be illiberal and close to fascism. Trump also claimed once, in 2016, that he could shoot someone standing in the Fifth Avenue, and his supporters wouldn’t abandon him.

Trump has managed to establish an emotional connection with his supporters, which consists of around 40% of the Americans. An article by Timothy Pytell on Psychology Today pointed out that it is a narcissistic identification with Trump that leads his supporters to follow him. By openly claiming he can do whatever he wants to, shoot anyone and still retain support, or grab women without their consent, he has tapped into the unconscious desires and thoughts of millions of Americans. His vulgarity, indecency, and law-breaking leads his followers into a narcissistic identification – as if they are Trump. Even though Trump may have to leave the White House, he will have the spotlight and Trumpism will not fade away from politics. This is the reason why the protestors believed in the “stop the steal” slogan.

Whenever Trump says “ I’m suffering for you” or shows as if he’s doing everything for America, his followers begin to see him as a true leader and it consolidates belief. Another thing is Trump considers himself God-like, and therefore religious groups and other people start connecting him to religion. They start believing even in his blatant lies.

Another reason that strengthened the Trump ideology are pro-right wing TV Channels like Fox news. They turn everything that Trump did into something “great”. Such channels are able to support the movement on a deeper level by brainwashing the audience.

The way he speaks, behaves and acts – makes such people relate with him so much that they start believing in him. There’s more about feelings, emotions and “dreampolitik realm” in Trumpism rather than economics and policies. The supporters were literally devoted to Trump. And if someone is not believing in his dangerous ideas, such as the liberals, Democrats, and especially some of the Republicans who went against Trump, they have either been termed “weak” or “losers” and in some cases, even traitors. An example of this is - "Where are Republicans! Have some backbone," Eric Trump tweeted in November during the elections. "Fight against this fraud. Our voters will never forget you if your sheep!" Clearly he wanted to convey that the people who are not fighting lack “backbone” and are somewhat like a coward. Such things instigated people in the name of bravery and nationalism.

Many of his supporters and base includes White supremacists, including the Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist hate group whose primary targets are African Americans. Its lesser enemies include Jews, immigrants, leftists, homosexuals, Muslims and, until recently, Catholics. Other than the above mentioned his main supporters include people from the rural areas, the middle states, white evangelists, and those into blue collar jobs or without college degrees. There’s a small population of non-white as well.

The riots proved that although the President has been defeated in the elections, his Trumpism remains deep-rooted, and will outlast him. “The work of undoing the siren call of Trumpism will require, to begin, a deeper understanding of its appeal”, Jeff Goodwin, an New York University Professor of Sociology and expert on movement politics, told CNN. He added, “A large part of Trumpism's appeal is Trump's personal appeal to a lot of people -- as a celebrity, as a crass speaker of truth, as these people see him, someone who doesn't mince words, someone who really tells it like it is. He's figured things out, he's a billionaire and he knows how the system works. All these elements of Trump's personality and character seem to have a lot of appeal to a big segment of the population. But I don't know if there is Trumpism without Trump.” He describes Trumpism as a “contradictory, unstable amalgam” of five key ideological pieces – Social conservatism (anti-abortion and anti-LGBT policies), Neoliberal capitalism (tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation), Economic nationalism, Nativism (anti-immigration policies), and white nationalism (refusal to condemn Proud Boys and others).

Aftermath and Reactions on the Capitol Insurrection

People commented and condemned the incident, not only in America but from all over the world. “This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney told a reporter. But the President himself didn’t condemn the rioters. Instead, he released a video message, telling his supporters to “go home and go home in peace” and said, “We love you; you’re very special.” He further went on with his false claims that the elections were “stolen”. In fact, in his speech which incited these people, Trump said he would join them and march together towards the Capitol, which he certainly didn’t do and went back to the White House, because most probably he didn’t want the dirt on him. He later tweeted telling the protestors to “stay peaceful”, but did not condemn or tell them to return back.

Reacting to President Trump’s irresponsible behaviour, Facebook locked Trump's accounts and removed posts related to the incident, Twitter locked his account for 12 hours, and then permanently suspended it.

Even the police was criticised for its role in the protests. In several footages, police officials can be seen bringing in the protestors and even clicking selfies with them. They were criticised for their biased attitude towards the riot and the leniency shown towards it as compared to the Black Lives Matter movement, that was comparatively peaceful. Several leaders, including President-elect Joe Biden have pointed out this racism which is visible in the difference between the handling of both the movements by the police.

The flags, signs, and other damaged items, including Nancy Pelosi’s broken name plate, will be preserved as historical artefacts in the House and Senate collections and shared with national museums.

It has also been called a coup d’état, and was a possible attempt to overturn the decision in a forceful manner, which certainly was undemocratic. Several leaders from countries around the world including France, China, Australia, Germany India, Israel, and the UK reacted to the incident and condemned it. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “disgraceful” while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani went on to blame the system itself and tweeted “What we saw last night and today in America firstly proved what a failure the Western democracy is and how fragile and weak its foundation is,” he said.

Democrats have introduced an article of impeachment against US President Donald Trump for his role in the deadly invasion of the Capitol. The article accuses M.r Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, "The president represents an imminent threat to our constitution, our country and the American people, and he must be removed from office immediately," Calls for Mr Trump's resignation, removal from office or impeachment have grown among Democrats and some Republicans in the days following the riots in Congress in which five people died. No US president has ever been impeached twice. However, it’s unlikely that Trump will be successfully impeached, because of his broad Republican support in the Senate.

Trump has said he is ready for a transition, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn-in as the 46th President on January 20th. But he added he will not attend the swearing-in ceremony.

In the last four years, the liberals, Democrats, the left and all Trump’s critics were accused of hysteria and hyperbole for calling his movements fascist, authoritarian and lawless. But now, the scenario seems to validate their claims showing how the Trump movement really proved to be a threat to the US as well as to the idea of democracy.

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