Ronaldo Lemos

This description of Ronaldo Lemos's work was prepared when Ronaldo Lemos was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.

The New Idea

Ronaldo is using technology to enhance democracy. He sees technology as an opportunity to include people who were excluded in decision making processes and content production. The internet brings access to information and opportunities, as well as advances in freedom of expression and association. However, for this to happen, it is important to regulate the way people use technology and the internet and to ensure that they will not be used as tools to suppress rights. Ronaldo Lemos created ITS - Institute of Technology and Society to analyze, address and impact the way society and technology interact, and is pioneering both in thinking about how to translate the fundamental rights of the real world into the digital world, making sure they are aligned with the democratic principles, as well as enabling previously excluded people to participate.

Ronaldo led the creation of Marco Civil da Internet, a Civil Regulatory Framework for the Internet in Brazil, which was approved by the Brazilian Congress in April 2014, establishing principles, rights and duties for the internet in the country, through a truly democratic multistakeholder process. The bill used internet to regulate it, and was collaboratively built online, through a transparent and inclusive process that counted with the participation of all interested users - academy, social organizations, companies, politicians, individuals from civil society. Marco Civil defined the fundamental rights for the contemporary world: privacy, freedom of speech, net neutrality, the recognition of the Internet as an essential tool for citizenship exercise, the principles of "open government", among other topics. Brazil is the first country in the world to have a legislation such as Marco Civil, both in content and in process. Ronaldo is now supporting other countries, such as Mexico, Italy, Lebanon and Jordan to implement similar processes. Ronaldo has also launched “Brazil Platform”, a platform for collaborative political decision-making to replicate the innovative process of building the law, which can be applied to various other issues.

Ronaldo works on many fronts to ensure access to information and, through an important partnership with the Culture Ministry, was able to change public policy on patents, open educational resources (OER) and digital culture. To ensure that technology’s benefits are broadly shared across society, Ronaldo also researches the appropriation of technology by the base of the pyramid, to ensure that new technology based practices and uses by low-income people do not stay invisible and criminalized. Examples are the decriminalization of the ‘lan houses’, the mapping of the multimillion dollar tecnobrega music industry in the north of Brazil and of Nigerias’ film making industry.

The Problem

Worldwide, democracy is facing a political representation crisis in the world. In the past two years, more than 70 countries had internal protests questioning the public representation system. Technology can be a tool to support representation in a connected world, but this potential is underused and, if not well regulated, the interaction between technology and society can also be used to suppress human rights. More and more present in people’s lives, technology mediates and creates new social dynamics. As this is a very new issue, few people in the world are ahead of this question, thinking about how to translate the fundamental rights of the “real world” into the virtual one, based on democratic principles, as well as creating new ones. If not regulated, the online interactions have great potential of being used to suppress fundamental rights, bringing new possibilities for censorship and surveillance of the users. The Snowden case, for example, showed the world the US’ global surveillance apparatus and raised awareness on privacy and transparency issues in a globalized and digital world.

The vulnerability opened by technology is not limited to countries. Users are also exposed in this non-regulated environment, with no clear means of protecting themselves or the information they share with the digital world. In 2014, for example, countries such as Turkey and Russia adopted laws that increase the control of the government over the internet, that blocks websites and restrains content, creating regimes which effectively censor, penalizing users who diverge with the main political forces. Brazil’s first proposed internet law, included in the voting agenda of the Federal Senate in 2007, was a criminal law with similar characteristics, which, in the attempt to prevent bad digital practices, ended up proposing a rigid control system in a non-regulated field that puts all common users in the risk of criminalization.

Internet and new technologies are spreading rapidly across the globe. Even though they provide users with many access points, to information, as well as knowledge production, this spread happens in a very unequal way, thus creating new differences and inequalities. This “digital division” does not only concern the physical access to technological infrastructures, but also the quality of the use and the context in which people use/appropriate them. Even though the information and communication technologies (ICTs) are bringing new opportunities for cultural exchanges, they are also a new challenge for the cultural diversity due to the risks of imbalance between rich and poor countries.

Technology brings new dynamics and practices which can be seen as illegal, because they challenge the way knowledge is produced, accessed and shared. In this environment, the most vulnerable are the people that are already excluded from the system in the ‘real world’. They have little resources to protect themselves and the legal framework is not commonly designed to ensure their protection.

On the other hand, technology and internet access can connect people, crossing borders, nationalities and belief systems. If well used, it can allow a broader access to knowledge and advances for freedom of speech and association. It can be a tool to empower people, allowing collaboration and popular participation in decision making and in the creation of a truly democratic society.

The Strategy

Ronaldo Lemos envisions the advancement and spread of the ICTs as a key factor for building a more democratic world. Technology can be used to increase access to information, participation in decision making, to enable new ways of producing content, but it is important to ensure it is not used to increase rights violations. Ronaldo created ITS - Institute of Technology and Society to analyze, address and regulate the way society and technology interact. ITS is a non-profit think-tank that carries out innovative pilot projects and research, and works to influence public policies through them. Studies are focused on technology and its legal, social, economic, cultural dimensions and, always with practical social impact as the objective, ITS uses these studies to advocate for legal and regulatory measures to protect rights, privacy, freedom of expression and access to knowledge. ITS’ team is interdisciplinary, and projects are developed in collaboration with specialists from different fields, from lawyers to technologists, media experts, anthropologists.

To ensure his mission, Ronaldo divided ITS’ work into three areas, which perform many comprehensive projects: rights, access to knowledge, appropriation of technology by the BoP. Ronaldo is the pioneer in thinking about how to translate the rights of the ‘real world’ to the ‘virtual world’. He created the “Marco Civil da Internet”, a Civil Regulatory Framework for the Internet in Brazil, which was approved by the Brazilian Congress in April 2014, establishing principles, rights and duties for the internet in the country, through a multistakeholder process. Internet was used as a tool to build the law that regulates it, as a tool for collective participation and transparency.

Based on Brazil’s Federal Constitution, Ronaldo and his team developed an initial list of principles for the internet. These principles went on open online discussion through an internet platform, which received contributions and promoted debates among the interested. This public consultation period took place in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, lasted 18 months and took place in two phases. Each principle was linked to a discussion forum where users shared their opinions on the matter. All comments are open and accessible, thus enabling an effective exchange of ideas. In order for a user to participate, he had to identify himself, authenticated by his ID number. Each participant could also vote to rank, positively or negatively, the contributions of others. These votes would not necessarily lead to the inclusion or exclusion of certain topics of debate, but guide the editorial team of the text about preferences, opinions and interests of the participants, contributing to the formulation of the proposal.

As result of this collective discussion, the text was gradually modified based on the demand, relevance and unfolding of the discussions. The process received credibility when the users saw that the text actually reflected the online discussion, and this encouraged greater participation from society. A Marco Civil blog and twitter account were created to share news and updates on the process, and mobilize users to participate. Through the hashtag #MarcoCivil, Ronaldo and his team mapped debates on the topic that were happening outside the portal, and turned them into official comments - participation in the discussions was possible even without having to access the Marco Civil website.

The discussion space was horizontally shared by individuals, CSOs, private companies, politicians and academia. Since the discussion would actually build the official bill, all stakeholders expressed their concerns in a transparent way. Marco Civil inserts multistakeholderism as a principle for Internet governance in Brazil, and is a success case for popular participation and democratization of the legislative process, through citizen use of information and communication technologies. The consultation period received more than 2,000 comments, with the participation of 287 users. After the law was written, there was a long and complex period of political negotiation until its approval. The collaborative construction gave attention and legitimacy to the document, which was approved exactly the way it was collaboratively written. Besides that, the transparency in the position of every party during the process reduced the asymmetry of information, facilitating negotiations and necessary compromises.

As result of a democratic process of construction, the final document was a balance of the opinions of the different stakeholders who participated in the process - Marco Civil did not have a winner, all players won and lost. Marco Civil’s principles ensure users freedom of expression, privacy, net neutrality, the right to internet access; limits to the responsibility of intermediaries; promotes openness and innovation. Net neutrality obliges Internet connection providers to treat any data package with equality, firming the internet as an area of free access to any type of content, and preventing users from being excluded from certain content for not affording to pay for full access packages. It also establishes government's obligation to give preference to free and open softwares.

In a time when many countries increase the government powers to interfere with the internet, the influence of this pioneer Brazilian law is widespread at a global level. Based on the Brazilian example, other countries are launching their online consultation processes to write their own versions of the Marco Civil. Marco Civil provides the model, both in process and substance, on how to approach the regulation of internet in a truly democratic way, and Ronaldo is giving support to some countries like Jordan, Italy, Chile, Mexico, France and the Dominican Republic to implement these models.

Besides that, Ronaldo recently launched the “Brazil Platform” to spread the tool for open and collaborative decision making. Due to Brazil’s current political and social demands, the first agenda to be discussed is political reform. For the discussion starting point, ITS conducts partnership with think tanks that already have quality content on the topic. This also qualifies the discussion, gathers and records knowledge from specialists, public opinion and from different sectors. The platform has started its activities with issues raised by ITS, through partnerships, such as the ones with the Ministry of Culture and the governments of the Federal District and Maranhão, it will also hold on-demand consultations for public administrators who want to build laws and policies in line with popular demands, and will also be opened to anyone who wants to use it for political decision-making, whether macro or micro.

A successful democracy also demands equal access to knowledge. Thus, in this area, ITS works with and has changed regulation in many fronts, such as patents, open educational resources (OER) and digital culture. Ronaldo added technology to the Culture Ministry’s agenda, especially on programs related to digital culture promotion - digital culture views digital inclusion as a starting point to new knowledge production paradigms, that are more democratic, collaborative and open. The digital culture policies created then are recognized worldwide, such as the creation of “Culture Points”, digital audiovisual production studios at Brazil’s periphery communities, key to allow local communities’ productions to reach the cyberspace.

Ronaldo was also responsible for the implementation of Creative Commons in Brazil, the first country to promote the effective and integrated use of free software and alternative licenses such as Creative Commons. Ronaldo was also a key player in building the legal framework in the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization so that developing countries have a more flexible regime for medicine licensing in 2005. ITS participates in national and international events on copyright and licensing, does publications and offers courses in partnership with Harvard and UERJ on the topic.

ITS also aims to ensure that technology’s benefits are broadly shared across society. For this, ITS researches on the appropriation of technology by the Base of the Pyramic and how this impacts their lives, and has changed policy in different arenas. In every favela, there are dozens of “lan houses” (cybercafes), where a citizen pays for one connectivity package that is used for many computers, enabling access for other dwellers in exchange of money. Those were illegal and their owners were criminalized. ITS’ research showed that, in 2009, half the Brazilian internet users accessed the web through one of the 109,000 lan houses in the country. From this research, it was possible to revoke the law against it and create a framework that regulates these establishments, through partnering with Sebrae.

Another relevant study was focused on emerging culture scenes mediated through technology. Completely invisible multi-million dollar industries were discovered, with new practices and innovative revenue models. The “tecnobrega” music industry was mapped in the North of Brazil, in which its producers treat their music “commons”, allowing free distribution. The research was covered by media such as CNN, BBC, Associated Press, and allowed Ronaldo to push for a law that revoked taxes on music albums, and enabled these low-income artists to formalize. ITS also mapped the Nigerian film industry, where local entrepreneurs used digital video technology to produce popular films, generally sold on the streets. This is the third largest audiovisual industry in the world, with interesting approaches on intellectual property management, but those were invisible. Ronaldo’s research gave legitimacy to the industry which is now supported by the government, as well as the second biggest employer in the country.

Among other studies being done, examples are an analysis of the impact that big data has on the poor, and of low-cost cellphones on connectivity. Ronaldo sees the relations of Brazilians and technology as a central element of the country’s development, to be taken advantage of as an opportunity. For this, he advocates for an open, inclusive and uncensored Internet environment, so that all users have equal access to it and to the opportunities it entails. Once these rights and accesses are established, internet and technology can be used as a tool to enhance democracy and expand civil participation opportunities.

The Person

Ronaldo was born in a small city in Minas Gerais. Despite his city’s isolation, Ronaldo had access to computers from an early age thanks to his father’s enthusiasm. This led him to study programming just after learning to read and write, and helped him understand that computers could be a platform for learning and empowerment. Besides that, his city was the first city to be chosen by the Ministry of Communication to get Cable TV, and had access to global channels such as CNN, years before newspaper companies in Rio or São Paulo. This got Ronaldo to understand, at an early age, the importance of information and of the ICTs to broaden opportunities, education, access to information and for the promotion of equality and of human capacities.

Ronaldo studied law, and at this time, he got involved in projects on legal sociology. He did an internship at a law office in telecommunications, which got him closer to the ICTs and made him think even more about its impact. After graduated, he followed a double carrier in academics and law, he continued to work at the office, and taught legal sociology at the University of São Paulo. While he was doing his doctorate, he applied for a masters program at Harvard, at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the only place in the world that was thinking about the impact of ICTs, and was approved. This was a relevant period in thinking about technology’s implications on society on human rights. At the end of his master, Ronaldo received several offers to work but he chose to cofound the FGV Law School in Rio de Janeiro, with the condition that he would be able to found a research center focused on his passion, internet and society.

Ronaldo also created Overmundo, the main Brazilian experience on the "Web 2.0" movement, which brought together cultural groups from all over Brazil to collaborate, in a time when social media barely existed. The site was created and edited 100% through decentralized cooperation and all the content is licensed under Creative Commons and free to use. Many of Brazil’s collectives, artists and activists had their origins and first mentions in Overmundo, such as Espaço Cubo, Fora do Eixo movement, ABRAFIN (Brazilian Association of Independent Festivals), etc. The portal received the most important award in the world in the area of digital culture, the Golden Nica of the Prix Ars Electronica in Austria. It was the first and only Brazilian site to receive the award, previously granted to projects like Wikipedia and Linux. Through Overmundo, it was possible to see Brazil’s immense potential for innovation, be it cultural or technological. Through ITS, Ronaldo now works to take this potential to its fullest.