Argentina Supreme Court Protects Online Reposting Intermediary Liability Doctrine: Same Wine in New Bottle?

originally published at MLRC MediaLawLetter, October 2013.

Like other Latin American countries, Argentina does not have specific laws governing liability for online intermediaries for third party posted content. The absence of specific laws on intermediary liability has become particularly problematic in defamation and invasion of privacy cases, with judges applying laws passed in an era when the Internet was not even imagined. In some cases, judges have ordered intermediaries to pay damages for third party content, but other cases have held the opposite. 

A recent decision from the Argentina Supreme Court may provide some help. The Court applied an old doctrine to decide that an intermediary should not be liable. Sujarchuk Ariel Bernardo c/Warley Jorge Alberto s/daños y perjuicios” –SC, S.755, L.XLVI. 


The facts of the case are simple. The defendant, Mr. Warley, posted on his blog an article written by another person. The article, according to the plaintiff Mr. Sujarchuk harmed his reputation and he claimed for damages against Mr. Warley, who, besides posting the article, added as a title to the post containing the word “sinister” which was not in the original article. 

Plaintiff won the case at the First Instance Judge and also at the Court of Appeal. However, the Argentinean Supreme Court reversed the decision, applying the doctrine known as “Campillay” (Fallos 308:789). The name of the doctrine came from a case decided in the 1980s, and the holding relevant for the “Sujarchuk” case is: a journalist or a publisher is not liable for the content published if he or she mentioned clearly the source from where the content is taken and also he or she has not contributed substantially to the content that was published. 

The Supreme Court followed the arguments of the Attorney General when she gave her opinion in the case. After highlighting the importance of freedom of expression as a basic human right and its importance for democracy, the Attorney General cited the Campillay doctrine and noted that in the instant case the content of the article at issue was not written by the defendant but only posted to his blog. 

Regarding the title created by the defendant, the Attorney General considered that this didn’t change substantially what the article itself said, so it did not defeat the Campillay doctrine: defendant merely reproduced content written by a third party and identified the source. 

The Sujarchuk case could have a great impact in a decision pending before the Supreme Court where the intermediaries are not bloggers but important search engines (Google and Yahoo). Though the case “Da Cunha Virginia c/Yahoo de Argentina SRL y Otro s/ daños y perjuicios” –S.C., D.544, L.XLVI.- is not decided yet, the Attorney General in her opinion of the case noted that the “Campillay” doctrine is applicable in cases where the search engines only indicate the place where information is available on the Internet. 

As I said at the beginning, in Argentina we don´t have legislation like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or the DMCA. However, there is strong advocacy in Argentina to clarify and to modernize the law in the country. However, in the meantime, an old doctrine may provide a safe harbor for intermediaries. In other words, some Judges understood that some old wine may fit in a new bottle. 


Brazil: the New Internet Freedom Champion?

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff recently delivered a speech before the United Nations General Assembly that was very well received among Internet freedom advocates. In her speech, President Rousseff criticized the United States for spying and also mentioned that Brazil “will present proposals for the establishment of a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet and to ensure the effective protection of data that travels through the web.” Her words are, without a doubt, a very good starting point for Brazil if it wants to be the new international leader that guarantees Internet freedom. However, it is necessary that Brazil take concrete actions in support of Rousseff’s words.
For instance, if Brazil were to join the Freedom Online Coalition, a group of governments committed to advance Internet freedom, it would send a positive message to the international community. Countries that join the coalition endorse a statement supporting the principle that all people enjoy the same human rights online as they do offline. From Latin America, only Costa Rica and Mexico are part of the coalition. On the other hand, other countries that are not members of the coalition, such as Russia, China and India, have taken steps in the wrong direction. For example, in the past, they have presented draft resolutions to the UN General assembly, which would have put in risk Internet governance. For Brazil, joining the Freedom Online Coalition would be a turning point and a step in the opposite direction, demonstrating that it takes some distance from its partners in groups such as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa).
Another action that Brazil could take to support the President’s speech is to implement domestic public policies and to push laws that guarantee freedom online, particularly freedom of expression. The situation in Brazil up to date is not encouraging. Reports by International NGOs –such as the recent Freedom on the Net report published by Freedom House that indicates that Brazil is a “partial free” country– or reports by private companies –such as the Google Transparency Report that shows that Brazil is one of the countries with the most requests to take down content from the Internet- shows that there is lots to do at the domestic level to improve Internet liberties. The bill known as the “marco civil” or “civil framework” for the Internet, that could improve the situation for better freedom online is still pending before the Brazilian Congress, though the President stated in her speech that she supports and will continue to support the initiative.
Finally, Brazil should assure it would work for an Internet governance approach that will not damage Internet infrastructure, and more importantly, will not impose risks on basic human rights. Last week's announcement that Brazil will host a global Internet governance summit next year could be positive, but it is not yet clear what Brazil's position on this issue will be: Earlier this year, Brazil signed the ITU treaty in Dubai that was criticized by advocates and experts as a document that could undermine Internet freedom. Brazil should distance itself from these initiatives.
Speeches delivered within the framework of inter-governmental organizations, like the UN, should be taken seriously. But while very important, they are only words if they are not followed by concrete actions in the right direction adopted by all branches of government. A true champion does not stop at words.


Amenaza a la privacidad y a la libertad de expresión

Publicado en el diario La Nación, Argentina, el 5 de octubre de 2013. Ver original aquí. 

¿Qué diríamos si un funcionario de la Comisión Nacional de Comunicaciones se presentara ante la empresa que nos provee servicios de Internet y solicitara información sobre el contenido de nuestros correos electrónicos? Sin duda, deberíamos manifestar nuestro rechazo. Pues bien, a partir de la resolución 5/2013 de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones, esa posibilidad queda totalmente habilitada. Las violaciones de garantías individuales, de llevarse a la práctica la resolución, son muchas, por lo que esa norma debería revisarse de manera urgente.
El 5 de junio de 2013, mediante el decreto presidencial 681/2013, el Poder Ejecutivo dispuso que la Secretaría de Comunicaciones del Ministerio de Planificación Federal, Inversión Pública y Servicios debería dictar un nuevo reglamento que estableciera los requisitos de calidad para los servicios de telecomunicaciones. En cumplimiento del decreto, el 1° de julio siguiente la Secretaría de Comunicaciones emitió la resolución 5/2013, en la que establece que los prestadores de telecomunicaciones deberán "garantizar el libre acceso de la Comisión Nacional de Comunicaciones a las instalaciones y sistemas vinculados a la prestación del servicio, y brindar toda la información que les sea requerida en las formas y en los plazos que ésta fije al efecto". El artículo 3 reitera esta obligación (la CNC, "a fin de dar cumplimiento a la presente, podrá requerir a los prestadores de servicios de telecomunicaciones la información que estime pertinente, fijando un plazo para su presentación").
Una lectura completa de la resolución hace que merezca algunas precisiones. Por un lado, en sus fundamentos se sostiene que la información a requerir se trataría de aquella vinculada con los indicadores de calidad de servicios -a quienes las llamadas de los celulares se nos cortan abruptamente sabemos a qué se refiere la "calidad de servicio"-; por otro lado, hay una mención en el artículo 5 que dispone que para la implementación de los mecanismos de medición de calidad de servicios se deben respetar las normas de protección de datos personales.
Sin embargo, los artículos 2 y 3 antes mencionados dan poder a la CNC para requerir a los prestadores "toda" la información que posean. Al empoderar a este organismo no se hace ninguna aclaración. En consecuencia, nada impediría que la CNC interpretara que puede pedir a un prestador de servicios acceso a datos de sus usuarios. Lo que resulta más grave es, además, que la autoridad de control sea la Comisión Nacional de Comunicaciones, intervenida por el Poder Ejecutivo desde 2002. Dicho de otro modo, el PEN podría solicitar datos de los usuarios sin siquiera tener que requerir un permiso judicial. Nuestra privacidad, como derecho fundamental, queda reducida de manera notable.
La resolución en cuestión también regula sobre otra cuestión que, contrariamente a lo recién explicado, podría ser en beneficio de los usuarios: la neutralidad de la red. Una red neutral podría definirse como aquella que transporta datos de una forma no discriminatoria, independientemente de sus contenidos, naturaleza, o la identidad de quien los envía o recibe.
Chile fue el primer país en sancionar una ley de neutralidad de la red. El tema está en debate en la Unión Europea y en Estados Unidos. En nuestro país, el debate está hoy instalado en la Comisión de Sistemas, Medios de Comunicación y Libertad de Expresión del Senado, donde varios legisladores pertenecientes a todo el arco político han presentado proyectos sobre neutralidad de la red. Sin embargo, la resolución de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones se adelantó al debate en el Congreso e incluyó una regulación a favor de la neutralidad de la red. Pero la referencia es débil justamente por la norma que la contiene. Sería conveniente plasmar el principio de neutralidad de la red en una ley sancionada por el Congreso y no en una mera resolución emitida a raíz de un decreto presidencial.
Las regulaciones de los servicios que facilitan las comunicaciones de las personas, sobre todo a partir de la expansión de Internet, deben tratarse con cuidado. Regulaciones descuidadas pueden tener consecuencias indeseadas para el ejercicio y respeto de derechos humanos, como la libertad de expresión o la privacidad. En definitiva, podemos compartir la sensación de la presidenta Cristina Fernández cuando contó que le corrió frío por la espalda al enterarse de que los servicios de informaciones de Estados Unidos nos estuvieron espiando. Pero el mismo escalofrío nos debe correr ante la posibilidad de que una oficina intervenida por el Poder Ejecutivo pueda espiarnos, gracias a una normativa que resulta, cuando menos, poco clara.