Brazil court orders ISPs to block access to Wordpress blog

By: sally on 10 April 2008

ISPs in Brazil have been ordered by the court to block a Wordpress blog that holds apparently defamatory material. This is the second time a court order has been handed to Brazilian ISPs – the first targeted a YouTube video in January of 2007, which resulted in a 24-hour block of YouTube. In this case, a private party requested an injunction, specifically for the blog to be blocked, and received it.

According to Marcel Leonardi, a Brazilian lawyer and cyberscholar, ISPs have determined that it is not possible for them to block the single URL; they must block the entire domain. Blocking a specific URL requires special filtering software and routing – somewhat more expensive technology that ISPs have not yet been required to implement, and for which there are few market incentives for adoption without being required. IP blocking, the most likely method to be used, is rather simple to implement, but carries high collateral costs, particularly in this case, by filtering the entire domain and any other web sites also associated with that IP address.

This situation arises in countries that have not required investments in sophisticated filtering, normally because they have chosen not to filter. However, in cases such as this, the ensuing collateral damage from filtering is often much higher. Brazil> doesn’t normally filter the Internet, and neither ISPs nor the government have seen reason to invest in sophisticated filtering apparatus. With this court order, there are three choices for the ISPs, none of them particularly desirable:

  • Block the whole domain using IP blocking or DNS tampering
  • Invest in filtering technology that they don’t want
  • Refuse the order

It is possible that at some point investing in filtering software might be a good business decision if enough blocking is being requested that the ability to keep a domain available outweighs the loss of the sites that are blocked. However, ISPs have not yet gotten to this point. By describing that they cannot block the single URL, they are laying bare the undesirable effects of ordering such a ban. Thus far, the block has not been implemented by ISPs, presumably because they await specific, formal notification from the court.

It is surprising that the parties chose to request the site be blocked, rather than requesting that the writer be prosecuted under defamation law. Many of the details of this case have not yet emerged, and we continue to follow its development.

Wordpress and other blog hosting services such as Blogspot have been blocked in a number of other countries, including China, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand and Turkey. In a similar case from 2006 in India, a number of blogs were required to be blocked, and ISPs complied by removing entire blog service domains. The reaction was fierce, and the blocks rescinded.