Brazilian authorities challenge Twitter over ‘unlawful tweets’

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Photo - Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

The government of Brazil has filed a lawsuit against Twitter demanding the micro blogging site suspend the accounts of users who tip drivers off about police roadblocks and radar traps. The lawsuit was filed by the Attorney General of the Union (AGU), Luis Inacio Lucena Adams, at a federal court in the state of Goias. It claims accounts that provide information to road users violate both traffic and criminal laws. Authorities are concerned the service is undermining its efforts to tackle drink-driving in the country.

“The prosecution responded to a necessity to ensure the effectiveness of action on surveillance of the federal highway police,” said chief prosecutor Celmo Ricardo Teixeira da Silva.

The lawsuit also orders Twitter to pay 500,000 reals ($290,000) for each day that it does not comply with the request.

It sure looks like Twitter dug its own grave, James, a technology professional working at a firm in Dubai Internet City told Arabian Gazette. I mean, what was Twitter thinking when it declared that it would delete users tweets in countries if requested? Do they not know that governments from China to the UK would love to use Twitter service in this regard. I think Twitter just invited trouble with open arms.”

However, some tech experts are pointing to the fact that deleted tweets would be visible to the rest of the world which would not make any aggrieved government happy.

Twitter cannot get into such a fix. It is not like the micro-blogging site is infused with cash and is able to work around lawsuits, Shannon, a finance expert at Brothem Consultants in Boston, USA, told Arabian Gazette. A company like Apple can take on lawsuits left and right, given what Apple earns in a day, Twitter earns in a year. Twitter should be very careful about what they tweet, he added.

Twitter is yet to comment on the case, though one of the accounts in question, @RadarBlitzGO, ended its service following the court action. Another, @RadarBlitzGO, remains in operation with more than 285,000 followers.

The lawsuit is not yet listed on Chilling Effects, which monitors cease and desist letters sent to Twitter.

FREE SPEECH

“It looks like Twitter built it, and they came,” said Eva Galperin, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defends free speech and privacy online. She insisted that the Brazilian case is the first time a government has sought to make Twitter delete content since the company recently announced it would do so in countries that require it.

“It certainly lets Brazilians know that the government is willing to make these requests to Twitter. It remains to be seen whether Twitter is going to comply with them,” Galperin added.

According to CNN, Brazil has reinforced legislation and taken concrete measures against driving under influenceover the last couple of years. As social interaction isvery popular in the country, this soon gave birth to a flurry of collaborative Twitter accounts such as @LeiSecaRJwhich is followed by more than 285,000 users (Dry Law Rio de Janeiro), which shared the location of radars and mobileroad control points (known as blitzes). Well @LeiSecaRJ had won a global Shorty Award in recognition of its services in 2011.

Im sad to say that my government doesnt understand the difference between Twitter users who have the right to voice their views and Twitter itself, Raul Fernandez, a Brazilian national living in Dubai, told Arabian Gazette. Though the grounds on which the argument is based seems logical, suing Twitter makes no sense, he added.

SAFETY FIRST

The suit is based on the contentions that by alerting drivers about the time and place of roadblocks, Twitter and its users are not only breaking the law but are directly endangering life, safety and property.

According to a statement issued from the attorney general’s office,prosecutors insisted that besides reducing the number of traffic accidents, checkpoints set up by transit police serve to combat other serious crimes, such as car theft, transportation of illegal weapons and drug trafficking.

It is the right of every government to protect its people, Mary Sanchez said while speaking to Arabian Gazette from Brazil. This is exactly what my country is doing. Why is it that if the US or Britain does such a thing, they are protecting their people and if it is done in Brazil, it is frowned upon?

Brazilian authorities have cited various studies that show the toll of traffic accidents in which 55,000 people die annually on an average on the country’s sprawling highways. Figures suggest accidents cost the nation 24.6 billion reals ($14.25 billion) in damages, health care costs and lost productivity.

Twitter itself is gripped with controversy after the social network announced it will accommodate governmental requests on censorship. Many users have been wondering how moral it was to help people dodge a law that intended to dramatically reduce the number of road casualties in the country. According to many users of the micro-blogging site, Twitter accounts can be used to diversify the focus and include other useful traffic information, such as incident reports.

RETREAT

Before news of the lawsuit spread, @RadarBlitzGO in Goiania, the state capital of Goias, was buzzing with information for drivers about traffic jams and blockages and tip-offs about police activity.

Monday afternoon, though, the site posted a succinct tweet to its roughly 12,000 followers: “It’s the end.”

“We haven’t received any guidance from Twitter. But we’re shutting down on our own accord,” the tweeter wrote. “In light of the civil action proposed…we are suspending updates until the court ruling.”

The account has been idle since then.

INTERNATIONAL RAMIFICATIONS

The Brazilian case can be used as a precedent by governments around the globe, Samira Yousuf, a human rights activist based in Johannesburg, told Arabian Gazette. I am all for controlling driving under the influence (DUI), but somehow feel that governments of the world would try to flex their muscles which is not right.

“Brazil does not have a good human rights record. I hear reports that the disclosure of police barricades and road blocks are actually in the interest of safeguarding the public, against the police itself. To what extent this is accurate I cannot confirm, she added while expressing skepticism about Brazilian government’s motives.

A London-based Chinese activist contacted Arabian Gazette to share his opinion about Brazil vs Twitter. China has been watching the story of Brazil and Twitter unfold with great interest. China in the past has tried to block Google and wreaked havoc at Facebook which many in outside world do not know. If Brazil wins this case I fear about the transparency and purity of future tweets, the young dissident added on condition of anonymity.

Joanna, a New York-based social anthropologist told Arabian Gazette:At a time of great social revolution which is being spearhead by social networking and micro blogging sites, the world is being seen and heard in a new light.” She added: Freedom of speech, thought, ideas, behavior etc. have never been so open and free. People are not only talking, but discussing about practically everything. At a time like this, governments should embrace the revolution not hinder it.

Twitter seems to be maintaining silence at the moment. “One of our core values, as a company, is to defend and respect each user’s voice,” the micro-blogging site wrote in a blog entry. “We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can. The tweets must continue to flow,” the San Francisco-based social network vowed in its online statement.

Sources: CNN, BBC

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