Matt Britt/Flickr

Brazil’s Statute of Virtual Liberty

Last week, Brazil adopted a genuine Internet “Bill of Rights.” Elsewhere in the world, however, developments have continued to move in a different, more ominous direction.

RIO DE JANEIRO – It seems like the plot of a horror movie – the type where a little-noticed glitch in the matrix threatens to cause global chaos. This time, it was a simple, but fateful, programming misstep that suddenly left millions of consumers’ most sensitive information vulnerable to hackers. News headlines screamed about online dangers that we could barely understand, alerting swarms of digital pirates to a bounty of new criminal opportunities. Companies worldwide scrambled to secure their online safety.

The story of the so-called “Heartbleed” bug, however, is all too real. It points to a stark truth: In a shockingly short time, we have become completely dependent on the Internet, a frontier we are only beginning to comprehend, let alone map and regulate. Important debates – such as freedom versus security, privacy versus piracy, and cyberspace’s impact on democracy – are far from being resolved.

Yet fears over Heartbleed and similar such threats, and the furor surrounding the aggressive American surveillance tactics revealed by former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, have already put many countries in a defensive posture. In many places, efforts to protect Internet freedom have been stymied.

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