Brazil (and others) need to learn lesson on freedom of information

The Brazil looks to be the first country to take advantage of the Twitter country-specific censorship plan.

Brazil has a zero-tolerance law on drinking and driving. And I mean ZERO! (I used to tell people — with just a hint of sarcasm — that gargling with original Listerine would put enough alcohol in your system to violate the law.) If a person bends the needle too far, that person’s car is confiscated then and there. Depending on the level, the person gets a ticket and is forced to take a taxi home and deal with the situation later OR the person is arrested and tossed in the local drunk tank.

Either way, not a pleasant situation for party goers. (And Brazilians do like to party.) The upside for the economy are more jobs for taxi drivers, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

One thing about laws like this. People are always looking for ways to get around them.

The latest in Brazil is the use of Twitter. People post the sites of the police “blitzes” where the roads are blocked and breathalyzer tests given. It seems the Brazilian government construes this action as encouraging drunken driving.

Last week Brazil filed papers to force Twitter to block all references to blitzes.

Let’s put aside the stupidity of Twitter’s new censorship policy. (It seems to be a blatant attempt to get into the growing Chinese market.)

Let’s focus on the stupid idea the Brazilian authorities seem to have, that being the idea that the problem will go away if the means of communication is blocked.

They only have to ask the Iranian, Chinese and Venezuelan governments how well that is working.

Each time these governments are doing all they can to preventing independent views from getting wide circulation. The new Twitter policy will make that easier.  But people will find a way to still communicate despite the censors.

Brazil is a relatively young democracy. Its media have fiercely protected their rights, even making it politically impossible for the highly popular ex-president Lula to use a “social control” panel to limit what the media publish/air. Even President Rousseff seems to be backing the move. (At least she has not stopped it.)

So there are still the vestiges of the Brazil of the generals. All the dictatorships have learned that blocking access to information one way only leads to multiple other ways to get the same information out. The desire for facts — whether larger political issues or the location of a police drunk driving barricade — is human nature. And information technology keeps changing to fulfill that need.

Twitter was wrong to implement its country–specific censorship plan. Democracies — and economic powerhouses — such as Brazil and India are wrong to think it will help their country. It only puts them in bed with dictators.

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Filed under Censorship, Press Freedom

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