Best VPNs for Brazil

Brazilian FlagLet us begin with a look at the Internet in Brazil.  The first thing we note is that it is the largest country in South America and has the 7th largest economy in the world.  Brazil is ranked 5th in Internet usage among all countries with nearly 108 million users.  Only China, the United States, India, and Japan have more.  Over 53% of Brazilians use the Internet daily.  On April 24, 2014 Brazil finally passed Marco Civil Da Internet, commonly called Brazil’s Internet Constitution.  Technically this law created an open Internet, protecting all Brazilian citizen’s freedom of speech rights.  However, the Internet in Brazil is not as open as the law would appear as evidenced by the fact that over 37% of all Brazilian Internet users connect using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  Only Indonesia with its growing Internet censorship, has a higher percentage (42%) of VPN usage.  Remarkably, even China with one of the most restrictive Internets in the world has a lower percentage of users who connect using a VPN.  We will look at why many Brazilians feel the need to protect their privacy and be more anonymous while using the Internet, but first let us have a look at our list of the best VPNs for Brazil.

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How Open Is the Internet in Brazil?

We need to look at several factors to see why a large majority of users in Brazil connect to the Internet by means of a VPN.  These include the new Marco Civil Da Internet law and proposed changes, current criminal code, persecution of news and social bloggers and journalists, and a trend toward Internet isolationism being pursued by the current Brazilian government.  We will take a look at how each of these has created a more censored Internet in Brazil.  This is why a large percentage of Brazilian citizens access the Internet through a VPN.

What Is Marco Civil Da Internet

As we previous said, Marco Civil Da Internet is the “Internet Constitution” that lays out Brazilian citizen’s Internet usage rights.  The main tenants of Marco Civil are citizen privacy, freedom of speech on the Internet, and the idea of net neutrality.   However it does not supersede current Criminal Penal Code.  In addition, it sets out the responsibilities, liabilities, and punishments for improper or illegal content.  Finally, it outlines what is necessary for the government to access private information held by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Internet Application Providers (IAPs) like Google, Twitter, and others.

As with all legislation, some parts of the bill are not quite so appealing, like article 11 which extends Brazilian law to all ISPs and IAPs.  This means that firms based in the US and other countries could be fined or otherwise punished if they adhere to local domestic laws in lieu of Brazilian law, as is many times the case.  It sets harsh penalties which can include up to a 10% fine on the company’s gross Brazilian revenues and could lead to the firm being blocked in Brazil.  European countries looked at similar provisions and some are still considering them after the Snowden revelations.  There is international interest in how this article is realistically implemented.

Marco Civil also created mandatory data retention for all Brazilian Internet users.  ISPs must store connection logs for one year.  These logs must include the user’s connection dates, start and end times, and the IP address of the terminal used to connect to the Internet.  Similarly, IAPs must store the date and time of use of applications and associated IP addresses for six months.  Additionally, the autonomous system administrator (legal entity authorized to provide IP addresses within the country) is individually responsible for the security of all of this private information and may not contract it to third parties.  Although Marco Civil provides no apparatus to ensure that they have adequate resources to ensure this security, they will be held liable for its exposure without court order or direct user authorization.

Brazilian Internet Privacy and Individual Freedom of Speech

One of the main tenants of Marco Civil is that it specifically defines that private user information be held by ISPs and IAPs.  User info can not  be shared with third parties unless by court order or consent of the user.  Furthermore, ISPs and IAPs are restricted from collecting or storing more individual personal information about a user than he/she has authorized.  It also requires service providers to be more transparent about the private information they do collect, what third parties they give access to it, and how it is used.  As a result, many ISPs and IAPs modified their terms of service to reflect this change.  You should user should examine these terms before excepting them to see exactly what they are authorizing.  Finally, as stated above they will be held accountable for its release to third-parties unless authorized by the user directly or through court order.  This restriction, however, does not prohibit administrative authorities with powers to do so from accessing certain user data, including names and IP addresses.

Although Marco Civil does authorize freedom of speech, it in no way diminishes other laws relating to libel or defamation as they apply to individuals.  Brazil has some of the most stringent laws regarding crimes against honor or slander:

  • Calumny – to falsely accuse somebody of something defined as a crime
    • Article 138 of the Penal Code
    • Penalty – detention of six months to two years, and fine;
  • Defamation – to impute the character somebody or his/her reputation
    • Article 139 of the Penal Code
    • Penalty – detention of three months to one year, and fine;
  • Insult – to offend the dignity or somebody’s decorum
    • Article 140 of the Penal Code
    • Penalty – detention of one to six months, and fine;
  • Disrespect – must be necessarily perpetrated against a government authority with regards to their function
    • Article 331 of the Penal Code
    • Penalty – detention of six months to two years, and fine.

Article 140 and 141 of the Penal Code increases these penalties by one-third if any of these crimes is committed against the President of the Republic, against the head of a foreign government, against a public official in the performance of his duties, or against those that are disabled or over 60 years old.  To add to the perceived injustice of the defamation laws, Article 53 states that the Deputies and Senators shall enjoy civil and criminal immunity for any of their opinions, words, and votes; thus exempting them from the previous articles.  Brazilian law only allows for actual “detention” for crimes with penalties of over four years so currently no crimes of honor fall under this.  Consequently, sentences are usually in the form of exorbitantly large fines and community service or other “open” or “semi-open” forms of punishment rather than actual time served in a penitentiary except in cases of repeated criminal offences.

Still, fear of being charged with one of the crimes against honor, along with other factors which we will discuss below, has led many news and social bloggers and even some journalists to self censor their Internet content.  This has resulted in a semi-open Internet where free speech is only permitted if it does not impune the character or dignity of another person regardless of the truth of the matter.  Harsher penalties have also created an Internet where users are afraid to criticize government authorities but the immunity enjoyed by such authorities has allowed them to criticize others without worry of civil or criminal penalties.  The only exception to this is if they have been convicted in Brazil and the truth of the matter has already been publicly posted.

Brazil has been one of the leading countries in takedown requests and lawsuits, according to companies like Google and Twitter.  Additionally several high-profile cases regarding intermediary liability have gained international exposure.  Although Marco Civil does authorize freedom of speech, it in no way diminishes other laws relating to libel or defamation as they apply to individuals.  It merely protects intermediaries like ISPs, Google, and others from liability if they comply with orders of takedown from a Brazilian court.  There is still a small problem with this in that such requests can come from local small claims courts and reasons for removal are open for interpretation.  This can lead to ISPs and IAPs self censoring themselves.  Brazil is consistently in the top percentage of countries, along with China, Russia, and Turkey, requesting takedowns with over 50% of them being for defamation reasons.  Marco Civil has allowed Google and others to appeal some court orders with mixed results to date.  Providers can still be held liable in cases or pornography or nudity which only requires a user removal request of the offending material.

Proposed Changes to Current Criminal Code and Marco Civil

As we saw above, current penal code is being applied to the content allowed on the Internet.   Apparently, this has not created a large enough intimidation factor for many of those in Brazil’s government.  Consequently, a bill was introduced in 2014 whose aim was to increase the penalties and means of prosecution of those who use electronic means (the Internet) to commit crimes against honor.  This bill (215/2015) has been combined with a similar bill (1547/2015) and another bill (1589/2015) that requires even greater penalties, as well as proposed changes to Marco Civil.  The overall changes to Article 141 include:

  • Doubling the penalty for crimes of honor perpetrated by use of the Internet which could lead to more cases of reclusion (imprisonment in a penitentiary) , as the penalty could be over four years for such crimes even on first offense.
  • If the slander, defamation or libel cause acts that result in the death of the victim, the penalty shall be of reclusion and the penalty increased by a factor of five, which means the penalty could be over ten years.
    • A provision to classify this as a “heinous crime”, thus increasing the jail time.
    • A provision to not allow bond in such cases.
  • It also included a proposal for reform of the Criminal Procedure Code, to obligate the competent authorities to print the content which would constitute the crime in order to safeguard a copy of the offensive material for future police investigations and possible criminal action.
  • Crimes of honor would be prosecutable by public authorities, independently from charges filed by the offended party.
  • A general rule, applicable to every crime, that obligates judges to stipulate a minimum reparation of damages for civil liability in all sentences.

The combined bill would also attempt to make changes to Marco Civil which include changes to Articles 10, 13, 15, 19, 21 and 23.  The following are some of the major changes proposed by the new bill:

  • Allowing the police to request data for purposes of opening an investigation of the crime of slander by someone on the Internet.
    • This amendment Article 23-A would also allow individual private information to be requested by the “competent authority”, thus bypassing the requirement for a court order.
    • This would also affect Articles 10, 13, and 15 by adding competent authority as authorized to request information from its guardians, bypassing the requirement of a court order.
  • Changes to Article 19 to include:
    • A right to be forgotten, conditioned to specific judicial order, as it relates his name or image to crime of which he has been absolved, after due process, or to slanderous, defamatory, or libelous facts.
    • Adding the possibility for preliminary injunctions over the matter.
  • Changes to Article 21 to include fines for failure to comply with the changes proposed in Article 19.

Looking at these proposed changes it seems evident that the government is trying to backdoor some of the provisions that were removed so that Marco Civil could be passed.   Passage of this bill as it currently exists will further erode Brazilian freedom of speech rights, as well as, weaken their individual privacy rights.  This will result in even more self-censorship, as well as, government censorship of the Brazilian Internet.

Brazil’s Quest to Separate From US Internet Backbone Dependency

When Snowden documents revealed that the US government had been spying on phone and emails of the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and had hacked into the state oil corporation Petrobas, where she serves on the board, she cancelled her US visit in protest.  Additionally, Brazil started looking for ways to make their Internet more independent from the US Internet.  In keeping with this threat, they created an all Brazilian email system, Expresso to replace Microsoft’s Outlook which the government, as well as, most Brazilians now use.  They also vowed to not use US suppliers in the state sponsored project to lay optical cable from Fortaleza-to-Portugal, and require all state projects to be with Brazilian public or state owned companies.  They also passed higher tariffs on goods imported from the US.  The cable will bypass Brazil’s existing Internet traffic routes to Europe, which currently go through the U.S.  While campaigning for re-election Rousseff also said Brazil would look at creating direct Internet routes to Africa and Asia as well.  A recent decline in the economy of Brazil has led to a reassessment of this policy and it remains to be seen if this trend will continue.

Journalistic Censorship In Brazil

Another factor to consider when examining the Internet in Brazil is their history of persecution of journalists and other media and news reporters by methods which include everything from judicial censorship to outright murder.  Since 2011, cases of murder of Brazilian journalists for their reporting has been on the increase.  For example in 2012, Décio Sá, the most influential journalist and blogger in the northern Brazilian state of Maranhão, was shot three times in the head by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.  Because of his high profile, his crime was quickly solved.  This happened just two months after the murder of Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes, a combative blogger who ran a local news website in Barra do Piraí, a town about 90 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.  Four journalists were killed in 2013, three in direct retaliation for their journalistic reporting.

Five journalists have been killed in 2015 so this trend shows no signs of slowing at this point.  Often these killings occur in rural areas of Brazil and police have no incentive to solve the murders of these little known news bloggers and journalists.  These are indicative of a larger problem that needs to be addressed where Internet bloggers are replacing local radio personalities as targets of violence for reporting political news and corruption.  Brazil has consistently had a place on the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) global impunity index which highlights the number of journalists that are murdered and their killers go free.  As a result, Brazil has continued its decline (falling 41 points in 2012 and another 9 in 2013) in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index which ranks the most dangerous countries for journalists.

As you can see by the proposed changes to Marco Civil, Internet bloggers and media journalists are also under judicial censor as many have been hit by fines that have actually caused some local news media outlets to close their doors.  This has resulted in many of the local radio stations being purchased by local politicians.  With this, many Internet journalists, news bloggers, and social bloggers have become the only source of open political discussion in many rural areas of Brazil.  This had led not only to violence against but also an increase in the number of defamation lawsuits against journalists and Internet bloggers as a means of intimidation.  This is leading to greater self-censorship of both professional journalists and Internet bloggers in Brazil.

How Can You Benefit By Using a VPN for Brazil

A personal VPN is a service which allows you to connect securely and confidentially to the Internet while conducting your daily Internet activities.  It does this by creating a secure tunnel between your device and the VPN server and bidirectionally encrypting all information sent between them.  Additionally,  the service will mask your true IP address, and provide you one at the VPN server’s location.  This will allow you to virtually set your location and help to anonymize your internet usage.   Finally most VPNs share IP addresses between their subscribers, further helping to anonymize them.  Their are two groups of people that can benefit from using such a service in Brazil: Brazilian citizens and people who are visiting, living, or working there.

Native Brazilians can use a VPN to increase their anonymity while accessing news, political, and social websites.  Also using a VPN will allow them to get a less biased look at both world and local events by using it to bypass some of the government censorship and self-censorship that occurs in their own country.  Since all of the data transmitted through the VPN is encrypted, it will protect it from being intercepted by third parties.  The anonymity provided by the VPN can also help to protect them from some of the frivolous slander lawsuits by helping to protect the anonymity of their posts and comments.  This will help protect them from both judicial censorship, as well as, becoming victims of the growing violence against Internet bloggers in Brazil.   It will also allow them to access geo-restricted streaming media from providers like US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Pandora music.  This will let them watch live events that may be geo-blocked in their country.  This will also let them keep up with local media while traveling for business or pleasure.  Using a VPN will also protect Brazilians who wish to use P2P file sharing services.

The second group of users who can benefit from a personal VPN service for Brazil are those who may be visiting, working, or currently living there.  Similarly to Brazilian citizens they use a VPN to unblock geo-restricted media and thus increase the library of streaming media and live events that they have access to.  They can also use the VPN to keep up with local events at home.  A VPN will also allow them to keep up with world events that could be censored by removal orders in Brazil.

Characteristics for Choosing a VPN for Brazil

When choosing a VPN for Brazil, there are a few characteristics that you need to look for to help you select the best one for your individual purpose.

  • First is do you trust the VPN provider?  This could be very important when selecting a personal VPN service for Brazil because of the number of slander lawsuits filed in Brazil.
    • How much of your personal information do they collect?
    • Is their privacy policy transparent about how they use your collected information?
    • How long have they been in the VPN industry and do they have a good reputation?
    • Where are they incorporated at?  Having a VPN that is incorporated in Brazil is not a good idea given the current state of Brazil’s Internet laws.
  • Second is how big is their network of VPN servers?
    • Where are its servers located at?
    • Do they have a worldwide presence?
    • Multiple servers in the US (on both coasts), the UK, and Europe are ideal for most.  This can be useful for those who want to maximize their streaming media access.  It will also ensure greater speed and reliability when accessing content in the US and allow then access to uncensored news from around the world.
  • Third, what is their logging policy regarding VPN usage?
    • A no-log Internet usage policy is ideal.  Thus even if requests are made of the IAP no information exists to be sent to the requesting authorities.
  • Fourth, how does the VPN perform for your purpose?
    • How fast is the VPN service from your location?
    • Can it help you scale the self imposed Brazilian censorship?
    • Can you access and configure it from your location?
    • Does it allow P2P traffic?
  • Fifth, how reliable is the network?
    • You want to choose a VPN which is stable.
    • You will also want to choose a VPN whose servers are not over crowded.
    • Does the service have a good reputation for service and support in case you have any questions?
    • Do they offer a kill switch to protect your privacy if the VPN drops?
    • Do they support DNS leak protection?  A kill switch and DNS leak protection can help protect the anonymity provided from using the service.
  • Sixth, is the bandwidth. This refers to how much data (in GB) you can download.
    • The best VPNs offer unlimited bandwidth.
  • Seventh, is it compatible with desktops, phones, tablets or other devices you might want to use with it?
    • Does it support Windows? Mac OS? Linux? iOS? Android? Others like Blackberry?
    • How many simultaneous connections does it allow? Two or more is better.
    • You should thoroughly test the VPN with all of your devices to make sure that they provide the performance and reliability that you want.
  • Eighth, is it secure and private to protect your traffic from prying eyes: be they ISP Brazilian governmnet, federal police, or cyber criminals?
    • What kind of protocols does the VPN use?  Protocols are rules for transmitting data.
      • A VPN service that supports all three protocols: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec and PPTP is best.
        • OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) (Best mix of security and speed)
          • It is highly configurable, fast, and secure.
          • Port forwarding helps increase its utility and help scale firewalls.
        • L2TP/IPsec – Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol / Internet Protocol Security is the encryption protocol for traffic.
          • It provides excellent security.
          • It has slower performance than that of OpenVPN due to double encapsulation of data.
          • It has built-in support on most devices which makes it easy to implement.
            Like OpenVPN, it has greater utility if it supports port forwarding.
        • PPTP – Point to Point Tunneling Protocol
          • It is considered the least secure and probably better suited for devices that can not use other protocols or where speed, not security is the main concern like downloading streaming media.
          • Like L2TP, it is built into most devices and very easy to setup.
    • Encryption is usually AES or Blowfish based.
      • It should use at least 128 bit which is not as secure but provides faster speed.
      • 256 bit is better for security but provides slower performance.
    • Other protocols include proprietary stealth ones to scale the Great Firewall of China, SSTP which is primarily for Windows, and IKEv2 which provides a good alternative for mobile devices because it supports fas and automatic reconnection for them.
  • Ninth, how easy is the VPN to actually use?
    • Does the VPN have easy to use and install software?
    • Does it have well written guides?
    • Does the service have an intuitive user interface?
  • Tenth, how much does the VPN service cost?
    • As always, you should spend what your budget can afford.  Trust, security and performance should be weighed against cost before choosing a VPN for Brazil.
    • Does it support crypto currencies like Bitcoin or other anonymous ways to pay for the service?  This could help to keep you even more anonymous while accessing the Internet from Brazil.
    • Remember to use the money-back guarantee to thoroughly test the service to ensure it suits your intended purpose.

All of the above criteria were examined for each of the VPNs when choosing our best VPNs for Brazil.  Care was taken to look at all the purposes that you might need a VPN for Brazil with more emphasis given to the security and confidentiality of your Internet traffic.  We also prioritized VPN services that provided excellent access to streaming media libraries from the US, UK and other popular countries.  These VPNs should satisfy any purpose that native Brazilians may have, as well as, those of visitors to Brazil.

Final Thoughts

Technically, the Constitution of Brazil provides its citizens with freedom of speech.  In practice though, because crimes of honor or slander and the penalties they impose, this freedom is somewhat curtailed in Brazil.  As a result of this, Brazil ranks above China in percentage of Internet users who connect through a VPN to the Internet.   This is ironic since Brazil touts itself as having an Internet with freedom of speech and limited censorship.  While China, on the other hand, offers no freedom of speech and is widely believed to have the most censored Internet in the world.  We looked at some of the factors why this surprising statistic exists like the new law Marco Civil Da Internet and proposed changes to it, slander criminal codes, persecution of news and social bloggers and journalists, and the trend toward Internet isolationism being pursued by the current Brazilian government.  Each of these has increased the imperative to connect though a VPN service when accessing the Internet from Brazil.

Using a VPN service will allow you to keep all of your Internet traffic secure and insure its confidentiality when using the Internet from Brazil.  Native Brazilians, as well as, visitors to Brazil will enjoy the extra anonymity a VPN can offer them while accessing the Internet. This can help to protect them from frivolous lawsuits designed to intimidate them.   Thus allowing them to have more open discussions of social and political topics like societal violence, graft and corruption in the government, and other controversial topics.  You can also use a VPN for more enjoyable reasons like bypassing geo-restrictions and increasing the amount of streaming media that you have access too.  The VPNs we selected will help you to accomplish all of this and more.  All have money back guarantees.  Select the one that you think best fits your needs and test it for yourself.