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Arthur I. Cyr: Brazil’s dictatorial methods

Updated: November 27, 2012 10:51AM

In recent years, Brazil has become a beacon of light in the realm of political freedom as well as holiday carnivals, but now shows signs of turning back toward the dark side. That nation has had stable democratic government, along with one of the most sizable newly industrializing economies in the world. This follows decades of dictatorship and stagnation.

Much of the credit accrues to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — the popular “Lula”, in the office from 2003 to 2010. After leading the socialist Workers Party to victory, he proved remarkably adept at courting capitalists and unlocking the enormous potential of market economics.

However, recent political events recall the dark years of dictatorship. On Oct. 22, the Brazilian National Newspaper Association (ANJ) reiterated that member papers have been advised to no longer permit Google to use their content.

Ricardo Pedreira, chief executive officer of ANJ, emphasized that this is purely a business decision, and that Google should share profits with newspapers. The global search engine has faced similar demands in other countries.

However, in Brazil there are ominous political undertones. The ANJ move occurs while government authorities are arresting and prosecuting information industry executives, who clearly are targeted for political reasons. Late last month, the head of Google in Brazil, Fabio Jose Silva Coelho, was arrested in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul and charged with slander.

This follows failure to remove two videos from YouTube which allegedly unfairly characterize Alcides Bernal, a local political candidate for public office. Google owns video site YouTube.

In August, a judge in the southern state of Santa Catarina ordered that Facebook be suspended from the district for failing to remove a page critical of a local government official. The individual offended was running for re-election at the time.

Google also has been sanctioned for failing to remove two other videos deemed offensive by political candidates. There have also been efforts to prevent viewing the notorious anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims.”

The company has succeeded in mitigating and reversing some of the decisions through negotiation and legal appeal, but these new developments remain worrisome overall. The harsh heavy-handed repression imposed by established dictatorships, notably China, draws attention from these more ambiguous but worrisome developments.

A principal counter to politically inspired efforts to repress freedom of speech and information is open information policies, plus privacy protection, by search engines themselves. Here Google’s record is essentially encouraging.

Google has faced embarrassing revelations that extensive information has been collected on individuals without warning. For example, Google Earth cars driving through random neighborhoods captured specific data from unsecure wireless outlets. The company pulled back from such practices.

In the face of restrictive censorship in China, Google moved servers from the mainland to Hong Kong, and instructs users on circumventing censorship. By contrast, Microsoft generally cooperates with Beijing.

Apple leader Steve Jobs not long before his death emphasized protecting customer privacy in announcing a new version of the iPhone. Since his death, the enormously successful company has taken a similar stance, emphasizing priority importance of privacy protection on the iPad tablet computers. This doubtless contributes to the worldwide popularity of the devices, and the associated massive capitalization of this company.

Regarding subordinates, Jobs could be a dictatorial, demanding occasional tyrant — who appreciated the importance of freedom to market success.

Perhaps Apple should donate iPads to judges and politicians in Brazil.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., and author of “After the Cold War.”

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