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Brazil's Senate approves controversial bill against disinformation

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Brasília (AFP)

Brazil's Senate has approved a controversial bill against disinformation opposed by President Jair Bolsonaro as well as social media platforms and freedom of speech advocates.

The measure, which has yet to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies, passed the Senate in a 44-32 vote late Tuesday in a virtual session.

That angered Bolsonaro, who has been censored by Twitter in the past and whose election campaign is in the spotlight for use of alleged fake news.

"I doubt the Chamber would approve it. But if it did, we could veto it," the far-right leader said of the bill.

"Freedom must be preserved, nobody is criticized as much as me on the internet and I have never complained about it," he added.

One of the bill's most controversial articles would require social media platforms to make supposedly confidential messages available to the judiciary for three months, including the identity of senders.

The bill would also require internet providers to allow courts remote access to their databases.

And it would prohibit the creation of spam accounts.

Platforms that fail to respect the new rules would be liable for fines of up to 10 percent of their annual turnover in Brazil.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and WhatsApp insisted in a joint statement last week that the measure "attacks the fundamental right to privacy and the protection of data ... opening the way for abuse."

But Senator Alessandro Vieira, from the center-left Citizenship Party, said it aims to "strengthen democracy and reduce disinformation and deception through the fight against false information or manipulation in social media."

He said it would allow for "the immediate exclusion of content that is racist or threatens children or teenagers."

Bolsonaro's son Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro branded the bill as "censorship" on Twitter and said he would vote against it.

It was also attacked by communist former deputy Manuela d'Avila, who said she was one of the country's biggest victims of disinformation.

"I want to truly tackle the industry of fake news. Find out who finances this vile act. But it won't be through an environment of general surveillance that we solve this problem," she wrote on Twitter.

The Supreme Court has launched an investigation into the financing behind mass diffusion of fake news items allegedly by far-right groups.

Several court members have received online threats.

Bolsonaro's election victory in 2018 could potentially be annulled if investigators find that he used mass messaging services to spread disinformation during his campaign.

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