Brazil would quit U.S.-centric Internet

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RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazil plans to divorce itself from the U.S.-centric Internet over Washington's widespread online spying, a move that many experts fear will be a potentially dangerous first step toward fracturing a global network built with minimal interference by governments.

President Dilma Rousseff ordered a series of measures aimed at greater Brazilian online independence and security following revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted her communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company's network and spied on Brazilians who entrusted their personal data to U.S. tech companies such as Facebook and Google.

The espionage so angered the leader that on Tuesday she postponed next month's scheduled Washington trip, when she was to be honored with a state dinner.

President Barack Obama has sought repeatedly to allay Brazil's concerns, meeting privately with Ms. Rousseff at an economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, and dispatching several top members of his administration to speak to the Brazilians. Mr. Obama spoke with Ms. Rousseff by phone Monday, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said they agreed to postpone the state visit, which would have been the first of Mr. Obama's second term. Mr. Carney said the two presidents believed that the visit "should not be overshadowed by a single bilateral issue, no matter how important or challenging the issue may be."

Internet security and policy experts say the Brazilian government's reaction to information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is understandable, but warn that it could set the Internet on course toward Balkanization.

"The global backlash is only beginning and will get far more severe in coming months," said Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute at the Washington-based New America Foundation. "This notion of national privacy sovereignty is going to be an increasingly salient issue around the globe."

While Brazil isn't proposing to bar its citizens from U.S.-based Web services, it wants their data to be stored locally, as the nation assumes greater control over Brazilians' Internet use to protect them from NSA snooping.

The danger of mandating that kind of geographic isolation, Mr. Meinrath said, is that it could render inoperable popular software applications and services and endanger the Internet's open, interconnected structure.

The effort by Latin America's biggest economy to digitally isolate itself from U.S. spying not only could be costly and difficult, but it could also encourage repressive governments to seek greater technical control over the Internet to crush free expression at home, experts say.

In December, nations advocating greater "cyber-sovereignty" pushed for such control at an International Telecommunications Union meeting in Dubai, with Western democracies led by the United States and the European Union in opposition.

Ms. Rousseff says she intends to push for international rules on hardware and software privacy and security at the U.N. General Assembly meeting this month. Among Snowden revelations: the NSA created backdoors for surreptitious access to software and Web-based services.

Brazil is now pushing more aggressively than any other nation to end U.S. commercial hegemony on the Internet. More than 80 percent of online search is controlled by U.S.-based firms.

Most of Brazil's global Internet traffic passes through the United States, so Ms. Rousseff's government plans to lay underwater fiber optic cable directly to Europe and also link to all South American nations to create what it hopes will be a network free of U.S. eavesdropping.

More communications integrity protection is expected when Telebras, the state-run telecom firm, works with partners to oversee the launch in 2016 of Brazil's first communications satellite, for military and public Internet traffic. Brazil's military now relies on a satellite run by Embratel, which Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim controls.

Ms. Rousseff is urging Brazil's Congress to compel Facebook, Google and all companies to store Brazilians' data on servers physically located inside Brazil to shield it from the NSA. If that happens, and other nations follow suit, Silicon Valley's bottom line could be hit by lost business and higher operating costs: Brazilians rank No. 3 on Facebook and No. 2 on Twitter and YouTube.


McClatchy Newspapers contributed.


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