ICT and Human Rights in Brazil: From Military to Digital Dictatorship

ICT and Human Rights in Brazil: From Military to Digital Dictatorship

José Rodrigues Filho (Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1918-0.ch006
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Abstract

Since the end of military government in Brazil, civilian governments have sought the accumulation and exercise of power to the detriment of the citizenry. They have done this with a kind of totalitarianism that takes the form of digital or bureaucratic dictatorship. Since the 1990s, they have started to implement information technology in the public sector to regulate and run the country in a command-and-control way through technological or bureaucratic dictatorship rather democratic process. While it is evident that there is a high level of investment in information technology in the public sector (e-government) in Brazil, there are also clear signs of the violation of human rights in terms of privacy. These occur, for instance, when the public administration exercises the power to engage in a process of electronic surveillance without the supervision of the judiciary. It is alleged that thousands of individual files have been accessed in the public administration in Brazil, despite the privacy protection offered by the national constitution. In addition, there is a proliferation of biometric identification using faces, eyes, fingerprints, and other body parts, especially in the e-voting system. This chapter shows how information technology (e-government) in Brazil could lead to violations of human rights because of the proliferation of biometric identification in the e-voting system as well as other sorts of invisible electronic surveillance that are affecting civil liberties and individual rights, including privacy.
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Introduction

During the last few years the connection between information technology and human rights has been recognized and discussed by scholars and practitioners, particularly in areas such as privacy, political participation, freedom of expression and gender equality. While in most discussions the opportunities presented by information technology are deemed to advance human rights, in some cases the challenges and threats to human rights are emphasized (Jorgensen, 2006; Metzl, 1996).

In this chapter I argue that there is a need to rethink the concepts or assumptions of information and communication technology (ICT) and human rights in current discussions about the “Information Society”, which are based largely in the “developed North” and influenced by neo-liberal economic reforms. In short, the ICT assumptions based on market-led values have to be replaced by an emphasis on ICT and well-being in terms of health, education and human needs or the association between ICT, development and human rights, avoiding the dominance and legitimate role of dominant international organizations in democratizing the global governance process.

Furthermore, it is recognized that the influence of private interests in human rights organizations (Sparks, 2005) has resulted in national ICT policy “where ‘pro-poor’ interventions could only be justified through ‘pro-market’ solutions” (Chakravartty, 2007, p. 310). Besides, how do we make the connection between new assumptions of ICT and human rights and the historical context of each country with regard to its democratic regime? How do we make the connection between the historical context of each country and the agenda of international organizations? Is ICT improving or reducing human rights? By challenging the dominant and mainstream assumptions of ICT, human rights can be examined as the most powerful instrument for human emancipation and participation to improve the condition of people’s lives.

Despite the potential of ICT to strengthen human rights, it seems that it is not improving human rights in Brazil as expected. Since the end of military government in Brazil, civilian governments have sought the accumulation and exercise of power to the detriment of the citizenry with a kind of totalitarianism that takes the form of digital or bureaucratic dictatorship.

The same critique made of the US government (Gingrich, 2009) seems to be applied to the Brazilian government when the desire for power led the executive branch of the government to mobilize the National Congress to change the national Constitution late in the 1990s and to allow President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to run for reelection. By creating a kind of imperial executive branch of government, the National Congress seems to be nullified and no longer serves its purpose of representing the Brazilian people.

It was with this kind of totalitarian arrogance that information technology started to be implemented in the public sector to regulate and run the country in a command-and-control way through technological and bureaucratic dictatorship rather than democratic process (Gingrich, 2009). While it is evident that there has been a high level of investment in information technology in the public sector (e-government) in Brazil, there are clear signs of violation of human rights in terms of privacy when the public administration exercises the power to engage in a process of electronic surveillance without court-issued warrants.

According to the Brazilian press thousands of individual files have been accessed in the public administration in Brazil, despite the privacy protection offered by the national Constitution. In addition, there is a proliferation of biometric identification using faces, eyes, fingerprints and other body parts, especially in the e-voting system.

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