Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff wants to free Brazil’s Internet access from U.S. domination.
Rousseff and the Brazilian government seek to accomplish this “cyber sovereignty” by strong-arming U.S. companies into establishing local data centers, laying a new fiber-optic link from Brazil through South Africa to Asia, and partnering with Russia on both defense and cybersecurity issues.
Brazil and the U.S. have shared years of security and economic cooperation. The recent allegations of cyber espionage concerning Brazilian politicians and a major Brazilian oil company add a layer of complexity to bilateral relations, possibly pushing Latin America further outside U.S. influence. Adding to this complexity is Brazil’s intention to interconnect South America with a cyberspace independent of U.S. territory, starting with Argentina.
Brazil has been in the news as of late due to its surging middle class and successful bids for the 2014 World Cup and 2014 Rio Olympic games. Despite this success, national corruption is rampant, according to 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. The country’s levels of economic freedom have declined as foreign investment has fled the country in the first half of 2012. In cyberspace, Brazil’s Internet freedom isn’t much better. While technologically advancing, Brazil’s infrastructure, social inequality, and poor education standards lower Brazilian citizens’ Internet capabilities.
These cyber plans are bold for a developing nation, yet they’re perhaps not so bold for a potentially emerging cyber power. However, these plans occur in conjunction with an economic slowdown as well as the worldwide proliferation of cyber attack abilities. Strange how a country concerned about cyber privacy should partner with such a bad actor—Russia—in cyberspace.
As previous incidents show, difficulties arise as a nation tries to insulate itself in cyberspace while maintaining a free society. Not only is this a massive task to undertake; it’s also troublesome for a South American nation that has a proven track record of heavy government involvement in private affairs.
Freedom on the net is essential to stimulating economic development and facilitating the flow of information. Any transnational efforts in cyberspace, like those advocated by President Rousseff, should be regarded suspiciously. Just this past December, several countries urged the International Telecommunications Union to pursue a path of “cyber-sovereignty.” This regional isolation will only serve to strengthen the most repressive nations by providing a model for marginalizing the outside world and regulating citizens’ access to the global web. Brazil’s plan leaves too much room for statist intervention in Internet freedom and could lead to crippling the growth of prosperity in Brazil.
Brazil has also been a valuable regional partner in the U.S.–Brazil Joint Commission Meetings on Science and Technology Cooperation for the past 18 years. Though economic exchanges continue to bind the two nations together, this recent falling out displays a potential reduction of U.S. influence in Latin America.
The U.S. should take this opportunity to redress its diplomatic, defense, and technology cooperation with its neighbors.