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Brazil, Argentina team up for joint cyber-defence mechanism

Shobhan Saxena
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Legislation seeks to make tech giants store locally gathered data inside Brazil

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez (right) with her Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff in this file photo.— PHOTO: AP
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez (right) with her Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff in this file photo.— PHOTO: AP

There are signs of a strong backlash from South American countries against the surveillance of their e-mails, phone calls and other communications by U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

With Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s state visit to U.S. hanging fire amid reports of NSA spying on her and millions of Brazilian citizens, South America has started working on joint cyber defence plans to protect data and privacy.

In a far-reaching step on Saturday, Brazil and Argentina decided to join hands to improve their cyber defence capabilities in the light of revelations about NSA snooping. “We need to reflect on how we cooperate to face these new forms of attack,” said Brazil’s Defence Minister Celso Amorim in Buenos Aires, after his meeting with top Argentinean leaders.

Earlier on Friday, Defence Ministers of both the countries signed a military cooperation agreement under which Brazil would provide cyber defence training to Argentine officers starting in 2014. The two South American countries, said Mr. Amorim, would soon start sharing information for joint projects in of cyber defence. The two have important software industries that could support those initiatives, he added.

The relationship between the U.S. and Brazil has become tense in recent weeks after local media cited documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden that show how NSA eavesdropped on the communications of Ms. Rousseff, her top advisers and state-owned oil giant Petrobras.

Other countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela, too have been outraged by the revelations about NSA activities. A few weeks ago, Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner had said she felt “a shiver go down her spine” when she learned that Washington was carrying cyber-espionage in Argentina.

Brazil has also started taking other steps to protect its data. On Friday, Ms. Rousseff urged legislators to vote on a bill that would force foreign companies to store all data about their Brazilian clients on servers based in the country.

Outraged by Globo TV reports, Ms. Rousseff has been pushing legislation that would seek to force tech giants like Google and Facebook to store locally gathered data inside Brazil.

The Internet Constitution Bill, which has been lingering in the Lower House of Brazilian Congress since 2011, includes provisions that would protect Web users in Brazil, South America’s biggest economy, which has one of the largest number of social media users in the world.

Global nature

Though experts believe that the requirement would be difficult to execute because of high costs and the global nature of the Internet, the government is pushing for a system where sensitive personal and official data is stored locally. “We can’t allow a situation where these companies share all the information about our government and people with an American secret agency. This is violation of our sovereignty and rights of our citizens. If they want to operate here, they have to abide by our laws,” a Brazilian official told The Hindu . “For us, it’s a very serious issue.”

In another sign of how seriously Brazil is taking the reports about the U.S. surveillance, the Foreign Relations Committee of Brazil’s House of Representatives last week unanimously adopted a measure that would allow it to send its members to Russia to meet Mr. Snowden.

Brazil’s lawmakers have said they want to discuss the revelations with Mr. Snowden, whose documents indicated that Brazil was one of the prime targets of Washington’s global surveillance programme.

The tense relations between Brazil and U.S. reached a new low last week as it was revealed that U.S. was spying on Petrobras. “Petrobras does not represent a threat to the security of any country. It represents, however, one of the world’s largest oil assets and a patrimony of the Brazilian people,” said Ms. Rousseff in a statement.

The reports seemed to have confirmed the suspicions of Brazilian officials that Petrobras’ newly discovered off-shore oil reserves are at the root of the spying on Latin America’s biggest economy.

“National security is just an excuse. The Americans are after our trade and commerce secrets,” said the Brazilian official who spoke to The Hindu . “We will do whatever it takes to protect our interests.”


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