The internet needs new rules. Germany and Brazil – working for privacy and security

30.03.2015 - Interview

Article by the Brazilian Ambassador to Germany, Maria Luiza Viotti, and the Commissioner for International Cyber Policy at the Federal Foreign Office, Dr Norbert Riedel. Published in the “Frankfurter Rundschau” on 30 March 2015. Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.


On 26 March 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution creating a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. Surprisingly, this is the first time in almost 40 years of United Nations special rapporteurs that a mandate has been created to investigate the right to privacy, although there are already many other special rapporteurs, for example on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, children’s rights, education and other issues.The creation of this new mandate is proof of the growing importance of the topic, particularly in light of the unstoppable digitisation of our lives. The resolution was the result of a joint initiative by Germany and Brazil. It is an important step forward, but we will not rest on our laurels.

In a changing world, which needs to find answers to the increasing digitisation of our societies and emerging options, we cannot simply retreat to familiar patterns of order, nor can we cling to rigid systems that no longer meet the requirements of our age. When we speak about a new order, we are referring to new regulatory models, new forms of participation, new processes for drawing up policies and, of course, to new and dependable partnerships. This defines German-Brazilian collaboration in international internet policy. We are focusing on three areas.

Firstly, our aim is to further the development of global internet principles. The internet is a shared global asset. If we want everyone, anywhere in the world, to be able to benefit from the liberating, economic and social effects of this unique medium, then we must agree on principles that guide the operation of the internet and our activities online. Such regulations cannot be drawn up between governments working behind closed doors. If everyone is to feel included, then everyone needs a voice: internet users, civil society, academia, business and governments. This process was launched at the NETmundial conference in São Paulo in April 2014, and we are now continuing it.

Secondly, we want to foster cyber security and rebuild trust. The whole world is talking about censorship and surveillance. And in public discussion, attacks like the cyber attack against Sony are often rhetorically likened to an act of war. Concerns are growing about the internet being used as a tool for espionage or sabotage. There is no doubt that we also need to ensure digital security. Crimes can be committed just as much in the virtual world as in “real life”. However, we must not engage in short‑term action for its own sake. Instead, our focus must be on establishing long-term stability and mutual trust in a global and thus, by definition, cross‑border zone. Experts from Brazil and Germany are working with 18 other countries, for example within the framework of the United Nations, on an inventory of current international regulations.

Furthermore, we firmly believe that we can only do justice to the ideal of a knowledge and information society if all regions of the world are able to use the internet safely and freely. Internet access in schools and administrations, affordable mobile apps, reliable and clear regulations, and an environment that fosters business and technical innovations are essential for this. When we review ten years of experience of developing the knowledge and information society on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in December 2015, Germany and Brazil will advocate that we promote measures based on our open and democratic ideal of an interconnected society in a targeted and coordinated manner in the future.

Thirdly, our aim is to create legal certainty and sensible regulations. Brazil adopted its Marco Civil da Internet in April 2014. For its part, Germany passed the Digital Agenda for Germany in August 2014, followed by the IT Security Act. In this way, both countries have set out their national principles in terms of strategy and legislation, and taken a major step towards greater legal clarity and meaningful regulatory guidelines. And we do not merely share our experiences with each other – we also actively seek dialogue with business and the public.

Internet policy is based on exchange and dialogue. Even a reliable bilateral partnership can only bear fruit if it is constantly maintained. Brazil and Germany will continue to develop their exchange on cyber and internet policy.

We are already looking forward to working with the new Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

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