Free Software in the Brazilian Government

Preface. Tentative steps on a long road

Brazil is on its way to entering the information society. However, as in other areas of the planet, the different segments of its society are not being incorporated at the same speed. The Brazilian elites have been quick to connect to the global computer network. Virtually all leading industrial and trading companies and financial capital use computer communication as an additional way of stimulating, updating and expanding their business. The problem lies with the poorer levels of society, which make up the bulk of Brazil's population, whose inclusion in the digital era is slow and comes up against the obstacles posed by the traditional concentration of income into the hands of the few in Brazilian society.

Example 1.2. Sergio Amadeu da Silveira

Chairman of the ITI (Information Technology Institute) and coordinator of the Technical Committee for the Implementation of Free Software of the Government of Brazil. Sociologist with a Master's Degree in Political Sciences from the University of São Paulo with the dissertation "Poder en el Ciberespacio: Estado-Nación, control y reglamentación de Internet" ("Power in Cyberspace: Nation State, Control and Internet Regulation"). A doctoral candidate at the University of São Paulo, he is studying democratic theory in the information era. He is the author of Exclusión Digital: la miseria en la era de la Información (Digital exclusion: destitution in the information era), published by Perseu Abramo. He supervised the Software Libre e Inclusión Digital (Free software and digital inclusion) selection of the publishing house Conrad and wrote one of its texts.

Marcelo Branco has attempted to show that information technology is not neutral. Here, we are presented with an important description of the efforts being made by a series of government institutions and Brazilian militants to reshape models of technology by focusing knowledge on a new paradigm that will create a more balanced information society.

In the information society, sharing knowledge is the equivalent of sharing wealth. It is the fundamental basis for the development of a more democratic information society with a less concentrated power. Hence, when we talk of free and open source software we are referring to a new technology policy. The facts, ideas and expectations detailed here by Marcelo Branco are the equivalent of a search for a government policy for the knowledge and mastery of a technology that will allow for a wider distribution of the positive options that can be guaranteed by a knowledge-based society.

Free software is moving forward both in Brazil and the rest of the world. This progress is not uniform and has its dangers. We need to be aware of the powerful interests being stirred up and pushed to one side when we adopt a stance in which we wish to share the essence of a piece of software: its source code. We will see here that protocols and software are essential for the networked communication of society. Whether it be a language, a mediator of human intelligence or an invention or commodity of considerable financial value, software must be free. Freedom is only possible with autonomy. This is what Branco attempts to show in this text.

Sergio Amadeu da Silveira


This text was written at the request of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), which required material on free software in Brazil to use as part of its International Master's Degree in Free Software.

The aim here is to describe something of what is happening in Brazil to promote free software in the government, using explanations and statements from top government officials. I am wholly responsible for the structure and content of this text, which does not necessarily coincide with the official position adopted by the governments involved.

Due to deadline constraints and the sheer size of the country, many stories about Brazil will be left untold in this first edition and there will probably be some errors or inaccuracies in the text itself.

Our aim with this text is to create a starting point for a dynamic process of construction in which new cases will continue to be added and efforts will be made to update the ones described in this first edition.

Thus, we are open to criticisms and suggestions from the free software community.

We would like to thank the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya for the opportunity to recover part of the recent history of our country in the knowledge that this could help to construct a new information society.

Free software in the Brazilian Government

"We must satiate the thirst for knowledge. We must promote digital inclusion as a matter of urgency."

"I consider the debate on the potential and challenges of new information and communication technologies to be of great importance. These technologies are opportunities for improving communication, dialogue and progress among our countries. [...] It all comes down to solidarity and our collective will. All peoples have the right to advances in human intelligence and creativity to stimulate their own progress and well-being. [...] We will make digital inclusion a powerful weapon for social inclusion.

The Brazilian Government's dialogue with civil society is decisive. [...] We must satiate the thirst for knowledge. Access to technological progress must be a universal right – not a privilege of the few.

We must promote digital inclusion as a matter of urgency.

The speed of technological transformations can cause us to miss out on opportunities.

So I have taken the initiative of making digital inclusion a state policy [...].

Free software meets these requirements. Its main merit lies in promoting the transfer of technology among individuals and nations, helping everybody to form part of the information society."

Address of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, in Africa
(available at:

The Government's reasons for the implementation of free software

During the first few months of Lula's term in office, important changes were made to the Brazilian Government's e-programme, coordinated by the Chief of Staff, José Dirceu. Two technical chambers were set up: the Technical Chamber of Free Software Implementation and the Technical Chamber of Digital Inclusion. The ITI (Information Technology Institute), an organisation reporting directly to the Casa Civil (Cabinet Office) of the Brazilian Government, was charged with coordinating the Federal Government's migration to free software. This operation was not delegated to a government agency but carried out by the President's Office itself, which reveals just how much of a priority the government initiative was in the plans for the information society.

The sociologist and free software activist, Sergio Amadeu da Silveira, was the administrator and coordinator of the successful telecentre programme of São Paulo, based entirely on free software. Da Silveira was chosen to chair the ITI and hence guide the implementation of free software in the government.


The Brazilian Government's main reasons for introducing a free software implementation project were macroeconomic factors, the guarantee of increased security for government information, the enhanced technological autonomy and capacity of the country, greater independence from suppliers and support for the socialisation of technological knowledge as an alternative for developing countries.


Each year, over € 752 million leave Brazil destined for the payment of software licences on a domestic market that moves € 2,255 million a year. This means that a third of the funds managed by the software industry in Brazil are passed on in the form of income to the monopolistic software giants.

Besides increasing the deficit of the balance of services, in this situation, the development of IT companies in Brazil is unfeasible. According to Sergio Amadeu, "to computerise the population, small businesses and town halls, the use of a proprietary platform would require sending more income abroad. And the more computerised the population (mainly with the use of basic software), the greater this sum would be. And yet, there are stable, secure and very cheap alternatives to be found in free software".

Less than 8.6% of Brazil's population is connected to the Internet and official sources state that over 53% of these users use illegal software without the authorisation of their owners. Hence, under intellectual property laws, they are considered criminals. The straightforward decriminalisation of this segment of Brazil's population with proprietary software would mean sending more than double the current amount for income abroad. Considering that we need to increase the number of digitally included individuals, the proprietary software option is clearly unfeasible from a macroeconomic perspective.

Secure information

Security and privacy were two other key factors in the Government's decision. The Government must guarantee the security of public information systems and the privacy of the data of its citizens. To achieve this, access to the source code of the programs used is essential. Without the source code, it is impossible to audit programs to check that they only do what the manufacturer says they do or whether there is a backdoor allowing breach of data privacy. Moreover, it is impossible to correct program errors without the source code, other than by contacting the proprietary manufacturer.

"By definition, closed software cannot be used by a government and considered to be secure software because the government does not have access to its source code. The development model of proprietary software in security terms is very outdated. The most obvious proof of this is that Microsoft partially opens its source code to governments so that it can remain on the market. However, these governments are always at the mercy of this foreign developer and when a new version is released, they must go through the new code again. In addition, the government technician allowed access to this code is subject to draconian confidentiality agreements. As a result, governments are not interested in using software over which they do not have full auditability. The watchword in logical security is full auditability and this is yet another reason for our decision to opt for free software", says Sergio Amadeu.

Technological autonomy and independence

The basic capital of the digital revolution and information society is digital knowledge itself. In other words, "digital outsiders" are those who do not have access to digital knowledge.

How can we include Brazil in the knowledge society if its universities, businesses, research centres, governments and society are not fully aware of the technology spreading across the country? Hence, any programme for the digital inclusion or integration into the information society will only be consistent if it uses free software. Digital inclusion programmes that use secret, proprietary software are effectively programmes for "exclusion" from digital knowledge.

According to Sergio Amadeu, this was the Brazilian Government's main motivation: "In my opinion, the main reason is technological autonomy. The more a person uses free software, the more one can progress from user to developer. This is where the great potential of free software lies. Technicians from the Government, businesses and the country in general can master the essence of the software, and this is the main reason for using free software. "It is for mastery of the essence of the software, not simply for macroeconomic reasons."

Brazil does not want to be a mere consumer of proprietary technologies and products; it has the right to be an active subject in the information society.

Supplier independence

We know that due to the logics of public law governments must purchase with utmost transparency and make these purchases public using the public bidding model. Moreover, governments have the right to know what they are purchasing. Proprietary platforms create a technological dependence that keeps the competition in check, make understanding the purchased product impossible and create a market niche for the company that sold the product to the government. As we know, this contravenes the public principles of government.

"Free software allows greater independence from the distributor of the solution. When the Government purchases a free software solution, it has access to the source code and its four basic freedoms. Hence, because it has the source code, it is not tied to the developer, which guarantees interoperability in the future", explains Sergio Amadeu.

Think of it this way: the purchase of proprietary software by governments is like us buying medicines without the right to know their chemical formula, or buying processed food without being entitled to know what it is made of.

Socialisation of knowledge

To allow underdeveloped or developing countries to rise out of this historical era of dependence and subordination to the rest of the world, the current international treaties and laws on patents and copyright, trade names protected by the ideology of intellectual property, need to be changed.

Intellectual property protection was originally created to encourage freedom of creation by stimulating inventors and to generate benefits for society. Nowadays, it is a market niche for developed countries and their monopolies, as suggested by the Chairman of the ITI when he says, "Brazil has seen that the peoples of the world are interested in the socialisation of technological knowledge. And this is the clear stance taken by Brazilian diplomacy, which is consistent with the notion of free software. Brazil has come across many contentious issues similar to that of free software. The crux of the matter is knowledge and socialisation. Free software is born by saying: Can I be free software? To which the answer is: Only if you socialise", says Sergio Amadeu.

This is the stance that Brazilian diplomacy and the President of the country have adopted in their dealings with the rest of the world.

Migration planning and the free software community

One of the earliest initiatives of the ITI was to establish relations between the Brazilian Government and the free software community. This initiative began to take shape during the first "strategic planning" of the Technical Chamber of Free Software Implementation in 2003, in which activists from Brazil's free software community were invited to take part alongside government technicians.

More than a hundred and forty people were involved in this strategic planning process, which laid down recommendations, objectives and actions for the implementation of free programs in the Government. In all, eighteen recommendations, twelve objectives and twenty-nine priority actions make up the set of guidelines for migration. At an official ceremony at the Palácio do Planalto, Minister Dirceu presented the Projeto Software livre Brasil (Free Software Project of Brazil) with a copy of the strategic planning, which indicated the first steps taken by the Government in its adoption of free software and its relationship with the community.


The strategic planning document is available at the following address:

The Projeto Software livre Brasil is available at the following address:

Training of Government technicians

The free software community was called on for a second time by the Brazilian Government. Over one week in April 2004, more than 2,000 government technicians began a free software training programme. Hackers, members of the community, were responsible for training the government employees on the 150 courses held.

In his inaugural address, Minister Dirceu stressed the importance of training civil servants in free software programs and the impact that this would have on society: "This event is the result of a group effort whose origins lie in the Executive e-Government Committee, which I am proud to chair. Its aim is to train technical staff of the Federal Government, thus spreading the free software culture across the country, specifically in the civil service, in order to make it more efficient and inclusive. We believe that the Federal Government's decision to opt for a system allowing the free modification and redistribution of software programs will enable us to eventually cast off the technological shackles imposed by the monopoly of a handful of companies and develop our own software that will meet our needs more adequately", added the Minister.[5]


Minister Dirceu's address at the inauguration of the civil servant training week. Available at:

"What was meant to be a straightforward training exercise turned out to be a huge event that brought together numerous professionals from across the country, giving us all the opportunity to share knowledge with the civil servants", pointed out Marlon Dutra, hacker and activist of the Free Software of Brazil project. "I am here to teach the 'Comprehensive Open LDAP Training' course. The whole community is very happy to be taking part in this event, which will no doubt go down in the history of Brazil, and we hope that the experience will be repeated. We know that this is helping the government to finally change the future of free software for all of us. It is a great honour for us all to be a part of this history", concluded Dutra.

Migration plan and strategy

The aim of the migration strategy of the Brazilian Government was to "free" workstations. Instead of starting with the big information systems and migration of the large databases which, as one can imagine, would take years to produce a visible result, the ITI chose to migrate the personal computers of the ministerial employees. Migration of the larger systems would require a consistent, long-term plan that would take years to complete and which would not alter the logics of the technological dependence of government purchases.

Sergio Amadeu explains: "In the migration plan of a private sector company under the total control of a group of shareholders, migration begins with the company's structural systems and works its way down to the workstations. If the Federal Government of Brazil had done this, we would have been as surprised as the German troops were at the Battle of Stalingrad. We use extremely complex structuring systems that would take a long time to migrate and re-write. But while we are writing the new system, the legacy is growing, whether it be in a databank or as basic software for workstations".

The Government's plan turns the logic on its head by defining a strategy with three basic guidelines:

  • Release of all workstations.

  • New system developments use free software.

  • Migration is initially only carried out with systems for which the above two operations are not possible.

The alternative to using applications that cannot run on stations with GNU/Linux is to build a web interface through which the user can obtain browser access to them to avoid having to rewrite the application initially. "We are working with cultural change so it is important to have a very clear vision of who is going to be migrated, given that we are dealing with technological difficulties and the constraints of the proprietary model. At the same time, there are cultural changes taking place for thousands of government employees who are the system users", explains Sergio Amadeu. "We found migration to be slow because there is a daily battle to break with the proprietary software culture and the lobby of proprietary companies, which is no mean feat", he adds.

The ITI decided to concentrate its efforts on five ministries that had already begun to migrate their workstations. The aim was to create a network effect that debunked certain myths about free software. In addition to the ITI, all of whose workstations run free software, the ministries of Energy and Mines, Cities, Culture, Science and Technology and Education, are already working with free desktops and full migration of these ministries is planned for the end of the Government's term.

This does not mean that the migration plan only extends to these ministries. For instance, Radiobrás (Brazil's public broadcasting company) already has more than eighty desktops running free software. There are also several government bodies and public undertakings such as SERPRO (the state company for Federal Government data)[6] and DATAPREV (social security data company)[7], that are introducing their own migration strategies.

We know that we are only just getting started and that there is a lot of ground to be covered to guarantee the success of our current programmes. Many battles, inside and outside the Government, have yet to be fought and they will be decisive in the spread and consolidation of this alternative. However, we can say for certain that never before has a national government made this such a public issue, helping to step up the debate and increase the understanding of free software.

The Government's stance is also helping on an international level to construct a new information society and to defend free software in the context of the United Nations, as occurred at the World Summit on the Information Society. These initiatives took on a perspective of solidarity in the official speech by President Lula on a visit to Africa in defence of a new information society and free software as a basic option for developing countries. There can be no doubt as to the information technology label defining President Lula's Government: free software.

Free Guide. The Brazilian Government's guide for migration to free software

In the migration of the Brazilian Government's proprietary platforms to free software, we have possibly one of the most experience-packed processes in the free software movement. The difficulties encountered, the mistakes made, the search for alternatives and the results obtained will contribute greatly to stimulating and consolidating free software around the world. The record of these experiences and the sharing of this knowledge with other governments and the international free software community is proving essential for the construction and fine-tuning of the "collective memory".


Guia Livre. Referência de Migração para Software Livre do Governo Federal (The Free Guide. Federal Government Reference for Free Software Migration). Available at:

With this aim in mind, through its e-Government technical committees for the implementation of free software and legacy systems and software licences, the Brazilian Government drew up its Free Guide, a reference work on migration available to all government agencies and to the general public. This important tool took its initial inspiration from the IDA guide (Interchange of Data between Administrations) guide of the European Community.


IDA guide. The IDA guide is available at:

However, the work was restructured and received significant contributions from Brazil's free software community and the technicians of the governments involved in the various migration tasks. "At the end of December, while we were debating the actions to introduce in 2004, we agreed that it was important to create a migration guide to help with the migration of free software", explains Corinto Meffe, project manager of technological innovations of the Ministry of Planning and coordinator of the Free Guide project.

The contribution of the Free Guide and the difference between it and the EC's IDA Guide is that we added the Brazilian experience of the community and governments. We changed some things, such as the fact that they use the term 'open-source software' while we preferred to use 'free software', which is clearer for the aims of Brazil. This indicates a change in conceptual focus.

The main focus of the EC's guide is costs, which contradicts a survey conducted by the IDA in 2002, which indicated that the cost factor of the use of free software in the evaluation of public administrations of the EC was sixth in importance. The Brazilian guide, however, focuses on the four freedoms of free software. We highlight the advantages of technological independence, access to the code and collaboration with development. This marked an unusual difference in aim.

Another point is that the European guide focused on the analysis of successful cases in private companies, because there were very few cases of government authorities. We removed this and introduced the successful cases of the Brazilian Government, which are "much more important", adds Maffe.

However, as you can see, the most important change is that the EC guide says that 'the views expressed in this document are purely those of the authors and may not, in any circumstances, be interpreted as stating an official position of the European Commission'. In its Guia livre, the Brazilian Government accepts liability and subscribes to the collective work, attaching institutional significance to it and validating an important technical reference for migrations within and beyond the country's borders. Brazil is the first country to have an institutional document in this framework.

Collective construction and launch of the Migration Guide

The beta version of the guide was launched at the 5th International Free Software Forum of Porto Alegre in June 2004. The Brazilian Government presented the guide to the 4,800 plus visitors to the event and publicised it in the media and Brazilian free software community channels (websites and lists). It underwent a process of collective creation at this event, in which the community was encouraged to contribute to the improvement, validation and creation of new topics relating to free software migration. Contributions were subsequently incorporated based on the experiences of the Federal Government and on public meetings held in various Brazilian cities. On 7 September, Brazil's Day of Independence, launch of the "Ipiranga" version was made public.

Following the incorporation of hundreds of new contributions, the initial 151-page version increased to 221 pages, freely licensed under the CC-GNU GPL (Creative Commons-GNU General Public License) and was given the official approval of the Brazilian Government.


3Creative Commons - GNU General Public License:

New topics and chapters were incorporated, such as the government's institutional political relationship with free software topics and the legal reasons for migration, besides the inclusion of free tools for geoprocessing, webmail, GNOME/ KDE graphical interfaces, fax servers, groupware. Brazilian distributions such as Conectiva and Kurumim were also included.

Aims of the Free Guide

The aims of the Free Guide are:

1) To help administrators to define a strategy for a planned and managed migration process.

2) To describe how this migration can be carried out, using general technical terms.

The guidelines were drawn up to have a practical use for administrators and should therefore be relevant and precise as well as accessible and understandable. This is not a handbook of detailed technical references. The structure attempts to encourage and allow changes to be made as administrators gain in experience and confidence and as the products become available to meet their needs.


For more information on the Brazilian Government's relationship with free software, visit:

3) To focus the guidelines and definitions in this guide on the models of interoperability of the Brazilian Government.

4) To create the conditions to allow these migrations to be explained in greater technical detail on the free software site of the Federal Government.

Tropicalisation and internationalisation

This wonderful process of the "tropicalisation" of free software migration experiences must continue by introducing the international community to this Brazilian contribution. Breaking down language barriers, particularly that of the hegemonic language of the Internet, English, will be crucial to the fine-tuning of this collective and continuous effort. And Brazil is waiting for the contribution of our international community.

João de Barro: Secure GNU/Linux

The João de Barro programme is a Brazilian Government initiative to provide greater security and to guarantee the authenticity of transactions made over the Internet, as part of its quest to popularise digital certification and stimulate the growth of e-commerce. The current platform electronically certifies all clearing system operations for national financial system transactions, amounting to € 19,770 million per day. The ultimate aim of this ITI project is to guarantee the technological independence of the entire digital certification process by the end of 2005 and to replace the entire proprietary encryption platform of the Root Certification Authority with free national hard and software by the end of 2006.


João de Barro is the popular name of the Red Ovenbird ( Furnarius Rufus ).

The government's chief collaborator on this programme is CASNAV (the Shipping Systems Analysis Centre of the Brazilian Navy). CASNAV is the specifier for the entire solution, since it has been using free software for encrypting solutions for over ten years.

The project, developed through a network of collaborators from government security agencies, research centres and universities, is stimulating the production and exchange of national knowledge in the field. Besides being a strategic project for the technological development and future of the Internet in Brazil, João de Barro collaborates on enhancing the security of international free software projects.

In parallel to this, the MERCOSUR countries are working to come up with a common regulation for the recognition of certificates between member countries to speed up e-commerce in the region.

Digital certification

The ICP-Brasil ( Infra Estrutura de Chaves Públicas Brasileira, Infrastructure of Government Keys of Brazil) was set up in 2001 by the Brazilian President's Office to guarantee the technical means (hardware and software) and regulations for enabling government institutions and private sector organisations to act on the basis of the legal validation of documents produced, transmitted or obtained electronically. Digital certification guarantees the security and authenticity of these transactions.

Through its infrastructure, ICP Brasil is the only legally valid and recognised certifying authority in Brazil. In other words, only electronic transactions and documents validated by this authority are legally recognised.

Most of the messages we exchange over the Internet are not encrypted, which means that the security and privacy of these messages can be easily breached. As they are not digitally signed, it is not possible to confirm their authenticity – and whether the person sending the message really is the sender or whether the contents sent really are the ones we see.

The ICP-Brasil identification and security process uses an asymmetric key with two passwords. A private password for encrypting and signing messages, used only by the sender of the message or document, and the root, a password that will be in the public domain. With full knowledge of the root construction, it is possible to "breach" or improve the security and privacy of information.

The proprietary technology currently used by ICP-Brasil does not allow the certifying authorities full auditing or knowledge of this technology. At most, this absolute knowledge is in the hands of employees of foreign companies. Building and sharing knowledge on this subject, from hardware to web-based business strategies is essential for any nation that does not want to be left on the sidelines of the world stage.

The hierarchy of this complex structure, coordinated by a Management Committee, consists at the top level of a policy management authority called a "Root Certification Authority" or "Root CA", which reports to the ITI and is responsible for signing the certificates from the certification authorities (CA).

At the next level, we have the chain of Certification Authorities (CAs), such as Serasa, Certsing, Caixa Econômica Federal, Receita Federal (tax agency), Serpro and the Brazilian President's Office, which issues the certificate for services authorities, called Registry Authorities (RAs) found at the far end of the next level.

RAs act as digital registries, dealing with clients, individuals or companies who wish to obtain legal recognition of their digital signature. The clients visit the registry unit and request digital certification for their company. The RA completes the registration and the clients receive digital certificates with digital signatures that can be used with all electronic transactions they wish to make with these certificates, which will guarantee the authenticity of the operation.

The quest for a more secure GNU/Linux

The João de Barro programme carries out a series of parallel projects and has created a number of different products that can be integrated into the free Root CA encryption platform. One of these involves the customisation and improvement of the security of the GNU/Linux operating system, which will be specifically applied to the João de Barro programme and other sensitive government areas.

This task is coordinated by ABIN – the Brazilian Information Agency – and will involve several Brazilian universities who will work on auditing, bug detection, security holes and customisation of the GNU/Linux operating system. "ABIN is locating and identifying competent individuals from academia to collaborate on the secure GNU/Linux project. Individuals with the right profile discovered in universities are being invited to take part in the programme. Around forty-two people are estimated to be working on the auditing of the operating system code", says Ricardo Valle, coordinator of the João de Barro programme.

"The universities taking part in the agreement will audit the kernel and other features of the operating system to pinpoint vulnerabilities and validate the system so that the institutions can produce a distribution of the operating system for sensitive areas of the Federal Government, such as the Receita Federal (Brazil's tax agency) and the federal police force.

These collaborators will attempt to locate vulnerabilities and contact the individuals who maintain the various packages in order to obtain fixes or improvements. I believe that these collaborators will very often be able to find a solution to fix a bug that has been found or come up with something else that could improve functionality", adds Ricardo Valle.

This project will have two by-products: the first is a finely-tuned and debugged operating system that will only contain the functionalities required for the HSM ( hardware security module ), which is the cryptographic security hardware. "This version will be able to fit on a floppy disk, because anything superfluous will be cut out. The software will only contain what is needed for the hardware", says Ricardo Valle.

The other by-product is the operating system that will be run on the workstation that controls and contains the Root CA applications. This version of GNU/Linux will be more complete and have more features than the HSM system.

The secure GNU/Linux project will thus help to improve the operating system overall and be able to offer its results to the development community. The project involves a specific form of collaboration between the government, universities and the free software community. It has also enabled performance of a scientific and technological development project in strategic areas of interest for the State, namely security and the use of free software, and it has extended the command of technology to diverse parts of Brazil and to academia.

The secure GNU/Linux project and the João de Barro programme as a whole have been designed to promote knowledge of cryptography and digital certification in Brazil. The budget for this project amounts to € 750,000.

A new cryptographic hardware

The heart of the structure is housed in a server cabinet in the Palácio do Planalto, where it deals with an infinite number of national security requirements. Besides the HSM ( hardware security module ), this cabinet houses an off-line workstation with the Root CA applications and the secret private key.

The HSM ( hardware security module ) that safeguards the private key of the Root CA – the starting key for the entire public key infrastructure of Brazil – is imported and proprietary. As a result, the Brazilian Government has neither the autonomy nor the knowledge to improve or maintain this equipment, which form the core of Brazil's digital certification system. This introduces an element of insecurity to the country's certification model because it depends on the supplier even for access to this private key.

The private key may be vulnerable to attack and the Brazilian Government can do nothing to improve this. In the light of this, a strategy is being adopted to develop a nationalised hardware solution. As part of a joint collaboration, the ITA (Technological Aeronautical Institute), with its vast experience and skills in hardware and electronics, will develop the cryptographic hardware to house the private Root CA key.

Free software for the Root CA

Another product under development is the free software application for the Root CA. This application is being designed for the signing of new certificates from a certifying authority (CA) enabled as part of the infrastructure and for issuing lists of revoked certificates.

The collaborator will be LABESC (Security Laboratory of the Federal University of Santa Catarina), which will lead a security task force from the RNP (National Research Network), which also includes the UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and the UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais). Both the ITA and the University of Santa Catarina will receive funding from the Ministry of Science and Technology. The three universities are working together on this project.

Casa Brasil

Digital technology to promote the integration of governmental action and create a point of reference and introduction for citizens with their government.

Like many governments have experienced, when Brazil's current government came to power, the country was suffering from fragmented actions and its traditional affliction of the separation of policies into "fiefs" in each ministry. Social programmes and public services are often badly implemented with very little dialogue between the diverse ministries; there is little cross-cutting between programmes, which is often negative for much of the population. Moreover, in many parts of the country, the population find it hard to imagine where the government actually is. This fragmentation and the problems with connecting government programmes tends to superpose policies and action programmes, which are simply repeated instead of being complemented. The government also seeks to create synergies so that actions from different government agencies complement rather than compete with one another.

On the initiative of the Minister of the Department for Government Communication and Strategic Management, Luiz Gushiken, the Brazilian Government is beginning to take important steps to change this picture. The Casa Brasil project is a reference for the Brazilian population aimed at unifying the defining label, the presence of the government and improving the deployment of ministerial programmes by integrating state policies into a single physical space.

The gauntlet thrown down by Minister Gushiken, the architect of Casa Brasil, is to give a more consistent visibility to the Federal Government's action across the country. The unifying core of this space was information technology and the digital inclusion programmes of the Federal Government, which, though numerous, were disjointed and disconnected.

Although Casa Brasil is not just a telecentre or digital inclusion programme, all of these spaces, whether public or set up in conjunction with the general population, will be prepared for an intensive use of digital technology, particularly free software.

According to Antonio Lasance, Minister Gushiken's Cabinet Chief, the forecast is for a thousand centres to be up and running by June 2005 and for this number to increase to six thousand by the end of 2007, all with free software.

The Casa Brasil project is a sort of Lego construction that the Government is getting ready to create a series of government services with separate distributions, separate labels, etc. around a basic telecentre structure. Another of the aims of Casa Brasil is to act as an adhesion project, encouraging ministries to share these spaces. It is a point of reference that will have its own defining label and be implemented in conjunction with the community, local authorities and regional governments. Casa Brasil will use only free software and could have a major impact, particularly on poorer classes in the outer limits and remote areas of the country", says Rogerio Santanna, National Secretary for Logistics and Information Technology of the Ministry of Planning.

The Ministry of Communications GESAC satellite

One of the foundations of Casa Brasil is the GESAC (e-Government and Citizen Support) programme, which is connecting 3,200 satellite points of presence with VSAT antennas and modems. This provides high-speed Internet connections in some poor, remote communities (such as inland indigenous regions in very poor parts of the country, located at long distances from towns or cities), some of which do not even have electricity (in which case solar cells are used) or premises that are absolutely impossible to reach through the traditional corporate networks of Brazil.


For more information on the GESAC programme, visit:

The Ministry of Communications estimates that over four million individuals are currently being served by GESAC satellite antennas. "We now have more than four million people using GESAC and 800 computers running free software implementation, mainly used as servers and printers in these spaces, a free call centre (0800) for the whole of Brazil (for providing information and receiving requests for support and complaints) and a total of twelve services, entirely in free software, running at the programme's data centre", says Antonio Albuquerque, coordinator of the Communications Ministry's digital inclusion programme.

The free software community is taking part in the GESAC programme through CIPSGA (Committee for Incentivising GNU and Alternative Programmes), whose main tasks are providing the call centre service and training multipliers. "Multiplier training covers the GNU/Linux operating system and explains how to use all network applications, share bandwidth, support people at the various points in their region and state and, in short, to make the most out of the programme. The free software community also helped to prepare the GNU/Linux version with the GESAC satellite connection and completed the entire technical demarcation of the programme with the help of the Federal University of Minas Gerais", adds Albuquerque.


Topawa Ka'a: digital inclusion with free software in the Amazon Basin

In the heart of the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, we have witnessed one of the most wonderful experiences of contact between remote villages and state-of-the-art technologies: Topawa Ka'a, the Rainforest Digital Inclusion Network.

Over the last 500 years, the first inhabitants of South America, the indigenous people, have seen their rights denied, their culture stifled and they have been virtually eradicated from the land that they ruled with freedom and sovereignty. In the administrative region of the Amazon Basin, which covers 58% of Brazil's surface, we find the richest and most valuable part of the original culture of this continent and many of the survivors of the massacre. We owe it to humanity to preserve this culture, restore harmonious relations with nature and guarantee the continuity of these ethnic groups.

As part of the aim of rescuing and restoring the prestige of the peoples of the Amazon Basin, the name of Topawa Ka'a was chosen, which comes from the Akawawa language, a dialect of Parakanã, from the Tupí-Guaraní family, from the linguistic branch of Tupí, which includes the Asurini and Surui languages. In Parakanã, "Topawa" simply means "network" and Ka'á means "wood, forest".

ELETRONORTE is a state company that supplies electricity to the Amazon Basin and has been charged with the project. It is now accepting social responsibility for its past liabilities of serious environmental and social damage caused by large hydroelectric works and an uncoordinated occupation of the land. The Director of Planning and Engineering and architect of the programme, Ismael Bayma, affirms that this sort of attitude is now considered unacceptable right across the world. For him, "the civilisation of Brazilians affected by these works, which did not always benefit them, deserved respect now and then. As does the environment, which belongs to us all".

Bayma explains that this was the background to creating the Forest Digital Inclusion Network. "Beneath the high-voltage cables that often pass over their heads without their benefiting from the electricity they carry, these citizens must have had their own ideas about the purpose of progress: How could the white men from the city build such works and confine the great rivers of the Amazon Basin while they, the native inhabitants or heroic forerunners, obtained no benefits from them? All these problems and all of this potential were there within arm's reach. So we decided to prioritise their social inclusion and, as a part of this, their digital inclusion", he adds.

The Director explains that, in view of the nature of the project with its vast geographical scope and technological implications, thought was immediately given to collaboration between government bodies and the necessary synergies. Bayma reveals that the first ELETRONORTE collaborator was ITI, which is linked to the Cabinet Office of the Government and had its own experience with the highly successful implementation of telecentres in São Paulo, a winning model with extensive network spread and popular support that was quickly assimilated by users in the poorest regions of the capital of São Paulo.

"Other government bodies quickly enlisted their help. We decided on a corporate optical fibre network that travels along the high-voltage lines and capitalises on this method; we also used satellite data transfer systems made available free of charge by GESAC, as well as other solutions", enthuses the leader of the Brazilian state company.

Social data

The social indicators and HDI (Human Development Index) of the Amazon Basin region are the worst in the country. The literacy rate is 9.7%, also one of the country's worst, and this is directly reflected in the level of digital inclusion. Less than 6.7% of the population have computers in their homes and only 4% are connected to the Internet. In Maranhão, for example, less than 2% of the population have access to the global computer network, making it the Brazilian state with the least digital inclusion. Another example is Pará, which is the fourth most excluded.


For more information about the HDI, see:

"The social issue of the Amazon Basin is one of the commitments of the Federal Government. When President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva came to power, he decreed that state companies would incorporate social responsibility into the regions in which they operate", recalls Evandro Nonato de Souza Filho, coordinator of the project. This caused a change in the understanding of electricity distribution, which ceased to be simply a "business", as it was previously seen, to be considered a public service that had been turned on its head to provide a service to the citizens of the country. In the areas in which it operates, ELETRONORTE has set up regional integration programmes, classified into educational and technological development, and which include digital inclusion.

Performance of the programme

The initial idea of ELETRONORTE with this programme was to make use of the existing technological structure, with thousands of kilometres of optical fibre installed beneath electricity lines. The company's network and knowledge in the Amazon region also helped to shape the initiative.

It would be wrong of us to assume that technology is the main challenge to the implementation of a digital inclusion programme in the north of Brazil. The logistics for maintaining the operational context and set up socio-educational programmes is a difficult task. The equipment for some of the parts covered by the programme takes two weeks to arrive at its destination by boat. Awareness of these special features is proving vital to the success of a wide-ranging and bold project such as this.

Technical teams

In all states of the Amazon Basin, ELETRONORTE has teams of staff that manage the company's internal network and are being trained in free software. The Rainforest Digital Inclusion Network uses the logistics structure and knowledge of the company technicians who already know what a computer network is and have the skills to carry out maintenance. These telecentres are manned by the staff who cover the region.

Implementation of the telecentres

The Topawa Ka'a project already has three telecentres up and running: Tupiranga, Vitória del Xingú and Altamira, and ten more units are planned for the end of 2004. The initial investment for the programme is € 263,000 and the goal is to set up twenty telecentres in the northern region and in the administrative region of the Amazon Basin. Each unit has a start-up cost of approximately € 30,000, which is used to purchase computers, servers, furniture, air conditioning and to fund refurbishment of the centre. It also includes a monthly maintenance cost of € 2,650, carried out by ELETRONORTE technicians.

The project is coordinated in such a way as to optimise costs and it is seeking to increase its list of original collaborators, which are: the ITI, Ministry of Communications (which set up the satellite link), the Bank of Brazil (which has donated used computers) and the municipal authorities, which generally provide the premises with the refurbishment already complete. In these cases, ELETRONORTE's calculations indicate a 50% reduction in the sum of investments made for the programme. The project also has a private collaborator, the Internet provider IG ( ), which maintains the domains and e-mail accounts provided for users of the telecentres.


Each Topawa Ka'a telecentre has 10-20 computers (depending on available space and number of inhabitants), all of which have free software installed on them. "The free software decision was made on the basis of the four freedoms it offers; distribution, copying, modification and distribution of the modified version", says Ana Carina Gomes de Andrade, Head of the Topawa Ka'a's Social Programmes. "We can modify programs to suit our specific needs and characteristics. It would be impossible to carry out this project with proprietary software because we would have to pay licence fees for each computer and we would not have the freedom to alter, modify and distribute the programs", she explains.

The decision for free software

The decision to use free software is in line with the guidelines of the Federal Government, a decisive factor in making the project feasible, since it needed to spread and hence the costs had to be as low as possible. This decision was also based on other concepts, such as freedom of knowledge, the ability to expand the contents of the programs – currently only available in Portuguese – "but we are studying the possibility of building a version in an indigenous dialect", says Carina.

"The possibility of creating an interface in an indigenous dialect is only possible with free software, which is easy to use and allows us to develop the distribution in the community now that many experiences have already been customised in our language, using expressions rather than letters. If we don't strengthen this relationship with our end users – the traditional communities of indigenous ethnic groups – we will fail in our aim of making technology an everyday object. If we can move forward – and this is the idea behind the project – we can create distributions that these communities can control and know what they are working with", she tells us. ELETRONORTE also took the experiences of the São Paulo telecentres and adapted them to the situation of the indigenous communities of the north.

Management council

The Topawa Ka'a telecentres have a Management Council made up of individuals from the local community, social movements, representatives of the municipal parliament (which debates their priorities) and the municipal authority of the region (which implements the actions on the premises where the telecentres have been set up). The Management Council draws up proposals for digital inclusion workshops for the community and for regional development activities, in order to provide state policies with a way in. An example of this is a request from the Ministry of the Environment to host a workshop on quemadas (fires lit by Brazilians to "clean" the land for growing crops), because of the number of accidents that occur in the northern region.


The project adopts the strategy of training monitors and technical agents in all telecentres so that they can act as multipliers of the action. Training is given to a wide number of individuals and then, following an assessment, three candidates are chosen to perform paid professional tasks for the project – an administrator and two monitors – who are relieved of their positions during the centre's operation. These multipliers are inhabitants of the community, which means that Topawa Ka'a is also stimulating job creation and generating income.


Each telecentre is set the initial target of benefiting four thousand people a month in the region through basic courses in computing and free computer use. The target public is the general community (indigenous and rural), whose lives are generally unstable. The interest of the region's inhabitants in the project has been overwhelming. Less than a week after the inauguration of the Altamira telecentre, for example, over three thousand people had signed up for the IT training courses and the timetables for free computer and Internet use were fully booked up. On 13 August, the region's first 1.6 thousand inhabitants from the first four groups of the Altamira and Vitória del Xingú telecentres received their basic computing diploma.

The training includes basic computing courses (basic GNU/Linux commands), OpenOffice classes, web browsing and e-mail communication. The project also offers e-mail to all those who drop by at the telecentres.

Social concern

A new social concern that is beginning to rear its head now needs to be tackled. The arrival of technology, the participation of communities in the global computer network and their inclusion in the information society are not solving the problem of job creation. Where can we place the young people who have already been trained on the programme? There are no vacancies for office work or other typical city jobs in the region. The main purpose of a telecentre is to become a useful tool for the everyday activities of the population. They cannot create "functional digital illiterates", people who were trained to use computer tools but cannot find a way for these resources to improve their quality of life and that of the region in which they live.

Telecentres must be run from a multidisciplinary angle rather than as a basic academy of computing. Evandro explains that the second step, once students have completed the basic computing course, is for them to continue their process of digital and social inclusion. "The idea is that we convert the telecentres into digital community centres. The Altamira telecentre, which has been operating for two months, is used as a cultural centre and is proving successful", adds the coordinator with satisfaction.

This project will certainly not solve the problems of the region's digital exclusion but it is emblematic in the contradictions it generates between the digital revolution and the perspectives of this evolutionary transformation of technology, used to improve quality of life for these ancestral peoples. This project, through its many collaborations – public and private, national and international – can be regarded as one of the most significant cases of social and digital inclusion of Brazil's information society programme.

Technical features of the project

  • The project uses the Debian-based GNU/Linux ( distribution of the telecentres of São Paulo: SACIX.



  • Local area network "client-server" model using LTSP – Linux Terminal Server Project ( ). The twenty computers access programs run on a local server.

  • 128 Kbps Internet connection, via satellite or fibre optic cable.

  • Proxy, DNS server and local DHCP running on a GNU/Linux server.

  • The project web pages are hosted by the ITI on an Apache server.

  • The POP e-mail uses the structure of the Internet provider, IG, which manages the accounts and domains. IG has set up 300,000 e-mail accounts with the name of the project for ELETRONORTE to distribute among users of the telecentres.

  • Main programs: Debian-GNU/Linux operating system, Desktop GNOME 2.6 and KDE, office applications, Ximian Evolution e-mail client, Mozilla browser, Gpaint and Gimp.

  • Server: Pentium 4 or similar with 2 HDs 40 GB, 2 GB RAM, CD burner, floppy drive.

  • Workstations: Celeron 800 or similar with 128 Mb RAM, floppy drive, laser printer.

Bibliographical references

For more information on the Marea project, see the website of the Special Department for Fishing and Fish Farming of the Brazilian President's Office:

You may also find it interesting to look at the following work, which is the source of the quotations that you will find in this section:

Adriane Lobo Costa, Gilson Ribeiro de la Silva, Josémilton Florêncio Lima, Karin Bacha, Luiz Eduardo Bonilha, Maria Luiza Gonçalves Ramos "Project for the Digital Inclusion of Traditional Fisherman and women"

Fisherman and women discover a new "Net". The Marea programme or fishing telecentre

In Morpará, in the state of Bahía near Xique-Xique and Bon Jesús de la Lapa, as in most of Brazil's fishing communities, its inhabitants live in a situation of isolation. They have problems receiving information and are socially marginalised. Morpará, like many communities like it, has no landline telephone and there is no mobile coverage either.

However, this situation began to change with the Programa Maré de Inclusão Digital (Tide Digital Inclusion Programme), launched by the Special Department for Fishing and Fish Farming of the Brazilian President's Office. The arrival of the first computers donated by the Bank of Brazil to the association of fishermen, with a broadband connection through a Ministry of Communications satellite antenna, is enabling this community to participate in the new information society and changing the lives of many people for the better.

João da Silva, aged 60, has been a traditional fisherman for over 40 years and masters the tool of his trade, the fishing net with a skill known to few. João's greatest joy this year was to discover the new possibilities of another type of Net: the Internet. He has been separated from his son for more than six years since, upon seeing the lack of opportunity and bleak outlook of the region, his son left home to study and seek out new opportunities in the big city of São Paulo. João had kept his son's e-mail address at home, written on one of the few letters that had reached him in all these years. On the day of the inauguration of the telecentre of Morpará, once the use of e-mail had been explained to him, João wasted no time and sent his first e-mail to his son. "It was one of the most exciting things that have happened at the centre", says Gilson Ribeiro da Silva, cabinet official of the Ministry of Fishing Project Management and one of the organisers of the digital inclusion programme. It was our happiest moment because João's son replied immediately and he sobbed his heart out and said: "I want to talk to my son every day". The fishing telecentre is open 24 hours a day, so the fishermen drop by in the early morning when they return from fishing.

According to Adriana Lobo Costa, manager of the digital inclusion project of the Special Department for Fishing and Fish Farming, "some staff of the Department who know about the Federal Government's Digital Inclusion Programme realised that fishing communities could benefit from it because of the isolation in which they live, the problems they have in receiving information and because of their marginalisation. After lots of preparatory discussions, we launched the digital inclusion project, realising that it would be a tool for the social organisation of communities. This was our main motivation in carrying out the project. We think that telecentres can intensify the interaction of communities in the global computer network through a critical interpretation of the information received".


The Maré programme was made possible through agreements signed with other Federal Government bodies – the Bank of Brazil provided the used computers and the Ministry of Communications installed the GESAC antennas – and the organised community which, through its organisations, settlements, associations, rural communities and social movements, provided the furniture and infrastructure for the centre where the telecentre was installed.

By the end of 2004, the country will have 27 telecentres and the plan is to double this figure in 2005 and in 2006. The computers will only use free software, based on guidelines issued by the Federal Government. "We believe that all of the features of free software are in line with our observations on the organisation and independence of the communities and the autonomy that we wish to enjoy", explains Maria Luiza Ramos, technical advisor to the Project Management.

The arrival of the telecentres to the communities has interrupted traditional practices and free software is among these newcomers. "We visited some IT academies with proprietary software and saw that they put limits on the users, restricting the learning of how to handle the technological tool. In the telecentres running free software in fishing communities, users have greater freedom to investigate. They have just discovered computers and the Internet and they are now discovering themselves, seeing that they are capable of so much more – and this is very important", concludes Gilson.

The Special Department for Fishing trains two monitors and one technician for each telecentre, who are chosen by the community for the local knowledge they can add to the project. Age and sex are also taken into account in the selection criteria and there must be at least one female and one more mature candidate. With young people, the programme gives priority to the selection of those who are familiar with the community context so that they can recover its history, gain self-confidence through the profession and tell their story and describe their experience to other communities.

One of the main aims of this digital inclusion programme is to stimulate and develop the organisation and structuring of the communities. In some cases, the theoretical contents are applied in collaboration with ANCA, the National Association for Farming Cooperation, which is linked to the MST (No Land Movement). "Some individuals are being trained in collaboration with MST because this increases the potential of the community organisation contents", adds Maria Luiza.

The selection criteria used for the towns where the telecentres will be set up take into account a number of issues, such as the insecurity of the premises, the physical isolation caused by the lack of information and communication and, most importantly, the level of organisation for the survival needs of these communities. Some telecentres were set up in bigger cities on the coast to help people defend themselves from real-estate speculation, predatory tourism and the lack of attention from some governments to fishing communities.

A financial issue too

This programme is already seeing that the inclusion of communities in the paradigm of the digital revolution can also have financial benefits.

"Traditional fishing has a significant socio-economic relevance, particularly if we take into account the activity's social role as provider of food and quality animal proteins for the population, particularly in the north-eastern states of Brazil" (Galdino, 1997). Fonteles Filho (1997) explains that the traditional fishing system survives in Brazil because of the diversity of tropical species, as it is difficult to create industrial companies that can concentrate production and specialise the catching technology, consolidated through socio-economic conditions that are more favourable to the creation of job opportunities and the generation of income.

The biggest problems affecting traditional fishing include precarious living conditions, poor organisation within the sector, the traditional lack of support and incentives, the high rate of illiteracy, inefficient storage and preservation infrastructures, occupation of the coasts by real-estate speculation, the competition of industrial fishing, pollution and environmental degradation.

The techniques and tools used in some cases are also primitive and inefficient. In addition to all this, fishermen find it hard to obtain loans. The long-term result of all this has been to generate a process of social exclusion that has persisted over time through social reproduction in these communities, severely undermining the self-confidence of traditional fishermen and their culture.

To confront the challenge of digital inclusion, this project hopes to trigger an educational process based essentially on fostering participative citizenship, which will no doubt generate specific results in the social organisation of production and in restoring the self-confidence of traditional fishermen and women, creating social inclusion in the political and economic spheres too.

To reach this aim, technical advisory instruments are being created to educate local workers with literacy processes and access and information to loans. According to the planning, a specialised professional will visit these telecentres once or twice a week to provide technical advice and help draw up projects for production and sale.

The organisation of the producers through the network of connected fishing communities, the exchange of experiences and the possibility of contact and selling their products all over the world, have all been successful.

According to Maria Luiza, "in the most recent telecentre to be set up in Cabo Frío (RJ), the women are producing flower craft with fish scales. They found out about the experiences of Belén and Río Grande do Sul with fish scales through the network. The women began to exchange information, perfect their techniques and spread the word about their work over the Internet, which sparked the idea of selling it – even to countries abroad. It is a huge umbrella that covers not only computing but also the organisation and recovery of culture".

"The introduction of telecentres in traditional fishing communities is bringing digital inclusion to this population segment, enabling access to new technologies, wider relations, Internet access, the democratisation of communication, the use of new technologies for education, increased access to knowledge and incentives for investigation, the speed and skills to deal with demand, and the possibility of exchanging experiences and results with other communities connected to the network. All this generates a context that strengthens the organisation of the sector. In short, a new world is being discovered.

Specific aims of the project

  1. To qualify the profession of traditional fishermen and women.

  2. To set up a national communication network using computers.

  3. To give the population access to basic digital inclusion.

  4. To improve the technical profile of communities and increase their job prospects.

  5. To educate young people from fishing communities in technical IT support.

  6. To train educators/multipliers in digital inclusion.

  7. To provide a catalyst for the social organisation of the traditional fishing sector and its social integration.

  8. To promote the development of free software for the fishing activities of associations, cooperatives and communities.

  9. To encourage the habit of recording fishing data and storing it in free databases.

Points of culture. The digital inclusion programme of the Ministry of Culture

"What we are seeing in digital computing in the world today started out in the libertarian counterculture movement. So what could be more natural, from our politico-cultural perspective, than a movement promoting free software for the pragmatic implementation of another of our realistic Utopia projects.

It is a strategic stance. Free software will be basic and essential if we are to have freedom and autonomy in the digital world of the twenty-first century. It is a sine qua non condition of any truly democratic digital inclusion project.

We cannot settle for paying income for all eternity to the owners of closed languages and models. Free software is at odds with all this. It will permit the mass inclusion of the people. It will enable the development of small companies in Brazil, of our future soft houses and it could create jobs for thousands upon thousands of technicians.

This is why the Ministry of Culture of Lula's Government believes that Brazil must be prepared to become a world free software leader. This is the path to the absolute mastery of digital culture. This is the road to inclusion of each and every Brazilian in the contemporary cultural universe."

Gilberto Gil, 19 August 2003

The words of Minister Gil leave no doubt as to the position and plans of the Ministry of Culture for Brazil's digital inclusion. The first steps were taken with the launch of a public bid for the creation of "Points of Culture". A total of € 4,510,000 will be invested in the project, which plans to create a thousand points of cultural irradiation in favelas and among indigenous tribes. One hundred "points" will be installed by the end of 2004, a further 500 in 2005, and another 1,000 by the end of 2006.

The "Points of Culture" consist of the distribution of complete kits of computers, microphones, scanners, video cameras, digital cameras and funds for hiring monitors and training multipliers, all through a series of public bids. The aim is for each point to act as a laboratory of digital culture, making full use of the benefits brought about by the digital revolution. The aim of digital literacy, in this case, is to train cultural producers and artists, who will then be able to experience the new possibilities of the converging digital language for creation, production, advertising and distribution of their work.

The challenge of breaking down the barriers posed by the traditional forms of cultural diffusion and appropriating this new paradigm for the communities involved is the crux of the project. The use of free software is the natural option, but the need to perfect free tools for image and audio production does not worry Claudio Prado, digital policies organiser of the Ministry of Culture and architect of the project. "We believe that there is a possibility of literacy in languages based on free software because we will have full knowledge of what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are doing it", he explains.

This challenge is supported by Minister Gil, who underlines the Brazilian Government's commitment to fostering what he has termed "agrarian reform" in cultural property, comparing free software to "a clear example of confiscation of intellectual estates, essential for opening up the field to future new creations."

The "Points of Culture" project will be a permanent bridge between technology producers, hackers and digital art, and forms the substantive part of the needs of digital inclusion and for sharing knowledge of art. It is the road to mastery of digital culture.

But Prado goes further. For him, "the Ministry of Culture considers that revolutions in digital technologies are essentially cultural and have translated into a paradigm shift. Technological convergence is generating an extraordinary possibility of rethinking all issues. Digital culture is an iceberg with three visible tips. The biggest visible tip of digital culture is the Internet, the second is free software and the third is the digital distribution of cultural and intellectual goods. These are the main areas of action of the Ministry of Culture.

Our digital culture programme is a digital inclusion programme because we understand digital inclusion to be social and cultural inclusion through digital technologies. This is the idea that technology can be transformed for social policies. The innovation we are bringing about for digital inclusion is based on the premise that the foundation stone of digital inclusion is an interactive multimedia studio, which requires broadband and, at the far end of this broadband, interaction in all transportable languages: text, 2D image, audio-visual and software. For us, the focus of digital inclusion is a space where it is possible to become literate in these languages."

Alexandre Freire and Dalton Martins, project consultants and postgraduate students of Computer Science at the University of São Paulo, explain: "we want to work on two focuses of production. The first is multimedia production, which follows the line of audio-visual development and includes a small technical infrastructure for working with video, audio, image, text development, Internet, editing, etc. And the other is technological production, the aim of which is to work with hardware, programming, GNU/Linux customisation, server listing, firewalls, writing scripts – the "hacklab" part.

We are customising the distribution (the script testing and customising the software that will be used and creating "survival kits" to keep these laboratories running. The infrastructure will be connected to a national network and provide a collaboration system with an effective distribution, where each point will publish everything that it is producing and all of the points will communicate with one another".

Instead of outsourcing maintenance, the project will train people from the communities involved to receive online support ). The idea is to provide complete autonomy to the points of culture and encourage the multiplication of these points across the region. "We need to create solid cores at these initial points that can be transformed into replicators for the other points that will be set up next year. Thus, the project will multiply the number of people required to host the workshops", says Prado.

The first "point of culture" to open is based on an agreement with the local authority of São Paulo. The space will consist of a telecentre and a large adjoining area for the recycling of hardware and digital technology. "It is a very interesting project and we will be spreading it to other areas. Recycling is a big step for us in the task of breaking down two digital exclusion barriers: one is that of people who think that only those with studies can be included, because everything is very difficult and complicated, when we see boys learning to build a computer in two days in the recycling office. This simple fact of assembling and disassembling a computer, switching it on and off, and doing something with this material gives them a power that they did not know they had and makes them feel included.

They can then start asking questions and discovering means and possibilities. And those with "technical DNA" in their blood begin their technological literacy process when they discover that there is something that can be understood in two days inside that machine, even if they have never stepped foot inside a school. The second exclusion barrier is cost, because people often think that technology is only for those who can afford it. And what actually happens with technology is that prices are falling dramatically. Technology access is then increasingly democratised and open; many more people can have a recording studio, for example. Thirty or forty years ago, a studio cost € 1,500,000 while nowadays, you can set up your own studio with a computer and another € 150", explains Claudio Prado.

"We believe that this other vision, that in which we begin to transform computers that were tossed on the rubbish heap and convert them into state-of-the-art technology, adapting them, making clusters, adding computers to make small-scale servers, etc., when we see that it is possible to transform rubbish into cutting-edge technology, that we are doing the things we want to do. Free software is a great help with all this because this alchemic possibility of transforming garbage into things that work – not into an old computer for poor people but into working technology – is another element that cancels out the exclusion factor", explains Prado.

Intellectual property and copyright

A critical view of intellectual property and the recovery of the true meaning of copyright is a hot topic that has come to the fore over the course of this project. We are seeing a situation in which the authors of intellectual works, be they musicians, film-makers or software developers, currently transfer their works and rights to intermediaries. These intermediaries, protected by intellectual property laws, take over the works of their authors. This intermediation that simply "copies and distributes" the works of the authors is being questioned in the digital revolution, since the Internet does this alone; in other words, digital technology and the global network of computers can restore a direct relationship between the producers and their public without the need for intermediaries. The Ministry of Culture has supported and discussed alternative licensing options for cultural works in the digital context, such as the Creative Commons.

"The idea of intellectual property is one of the paradigms of the three tips of the iceberg I mentioned earlier. I will use the example of music to explain how all this works and how it is integrated into the Points of Culture. For example: When a young boy comes into a Point of Culture studio to record a CD or a song, he is sent to a workshop where he is informed about what a licence is and how it works in this new Creative Commons model. This means that when the boy records his song, he will have already been introduced into the logic of a system that is exactly the same logic of the musician. The musician and the boy can understand the logic of the system, of having the song recorded and having it distributed on the Internet so that it can be made available and possibly marketed in the future. This is how we see all this relating to the situations that arise at the Points of Culture.

Nowadays, there is an exclusion pyramid based on the closed concept of copyright. All reserved rights exclude anybody who does not have a commercial perspective for their music. This is true of 100% of the boys who record their music for the first time; nobody is looking to market it, they just want it to circulate. The logic of circulation is flawed because this circulatory movement is excluded from the system while, in the Creative Commons model, it can be included in the system. He authorises his music to be made available under the conditions he chooses, and this is included in a logic of music management in the twenty-first century. We believe that doing this in the multimedia studios we set up in the Points of Culture will give the musicians that come out of these studios a direction. At the moment, hopefuls who want to enter the world of music have to leave wherever they are for Río/São Paulo and prostitute themselves artistically – and possibly physically – to get a break on Fantástico*. It is a flawed pyramid", adds Prado.


Fantástico is a very popular open television programme that showcases new talent, among other features.

The Ministry's policy is to bring attention to the fact that the digital revolutions have introduced an aspect of non-viability into the traditional system of distribution. "The Creative Commons model flexibilises the rights of authors and establishes a possibility of circulation forbidden by the current copyright model. The Ministry of Culture considers that the progress made in digital distribution is inexorable and there is no point in fighting it. Indeed, digital distribution has been accused of being responsible for piracy. We prefer to look at the possibilities of digital distribution as offering great potential, an excellent possibility of democratising knowledge and information. This new form of distribution must be regulated in ways other than those used in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, using a model devised and generated on the basis of rights of the authors, on reserved rights. We understand this flexibilisation of the rights of authorship to be essential to an understanding of the new management model we need for cultural matters.

In music, the record labels will logically fight digital distribution because it excludes them from the wonderful bounties of which they were usufructuaries in the twentieth century. In other words, those who fight against making the system more flexible will be fighting to maintain their profits. We, the Government, are obliged to see this as an excellent opportunity of giving access to people who were always excluded. And this cannot be achieved without a change in attitude towards the rights of authors", says Prado.

Combating functional digital illiteracy

We know that "functional digital illiteracy" exists today. It refers to people who can use e-mail and browse the Internet but do not know what to use it for because it has no place in their everyday lives and context. Digital technology "did not penetrate fully enough to be transformational for that person, as the implementer of what they produce. He or she stopped at the use of programs and tools and did not delve further into the appropriation of the technology or the possibilities that it offered. This represents an enormous gap and functional illiteracy exists both among excluded people and among those considered to be included from a technical point of view" says Prado.

"Digital culture presupposes an understanding that commercial sites are a sort of screen that hides the reality of the Internet, its wealth and the possibility of making technology one's own. On a commercial site, we are in the same situation as when we go shopping. We go in and find a myriad of things to buy, but most people do not have access to these things, so they are excluded." Professor Nelson Pretto of the Federal University of Bahía, goes a step further and compares the sites to "pens" that restrict the possibilities of Internet users, herding them along a single path.

This project acknowledges the need for citizens to appropriate this digital revolution, not as consumers of technology or content, but as producers, as active and restless subjects of the digital revolution.

Porto Alegre, a free thought factory

The city of Porto Alegre in the far south of Brazil has become a world reference for its practices in the construction of a new citizenship based on participative democracy. Every year, tens of thousands of people meet at popular assemblies to decide how to allocate the municipal budget funds and set down the priorities for its public policies. This experience of direct democracy known as orçamento participativo (participative budget), in use since 1989, is responsible for an increase in popular participation in all areas and has acted as a launch pad for an exchange of experiences never before seen in an international community seeking a new point of reference for social development that was different to the neoliberal thinking dominating the planet at that time.

The relationship between the state authorities and the city's inhabitants, and between the latter and avant-garde sectors of new international thinking, culminated in the 1st World Social Forum of Porto Alegre in January 2001, in contraposition to the World Economic Forum of Davos.

"The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among mankind. The WSF proposes the debate of alternatives for the construction of a globalisation in solidarity that will respect universal human rights, and those of all citizens of all nations and the environment and will rest on democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples."


Charter of Principles of the World Social Forum:

Against this backdrop, the municipal authorities of the city of Porto Alegre began to draw up policies for a new information society. Full access to digital knowledge as a "human right" and a vision integrated with state policies of social inclusion were the guiding principles of the municipal actions in information technology.

Municipal digital inclusion policies

Since 1977, the municipal authorities of Porto Alegre have had their own public ICT company, PROCEMPA, which develops the municipal government's systems for health, taxes and finance, education, transport and traffic, sewage system, cleaning, planning, building and administrative management.

Almost coinciding with the launch of commercial Internet in Brazil, in 1995, the municipal authorities of Porto Alegre, through PROCEMPA, took the pioneering step of creating the Internet service provider (ISP) PortoWeb. This measure sought to encourage the population's participation in the global network of computers and help to modernise and de-bureaucratise the civil service by making it accessible from the Internet. This, the first government action for integration into the information society, was a great success and registered thousands of Internet users in the first few months of its operation.

Another important milestone was reached in 1996, with the creation of the "Infovía", a fibre optic network connecting the main public buildings, which have over six thousand computers installed and connected to the Internet between them, and the poles of economic development with modern multi-service broadband technologies. This created a backbone of over 210 km of fibre optic cable illuminated by ATM/IP technologies and alternative broadband access using radio-linking. During this period, the authorities began introducing computers in all municipal schools.

Later, in 1999, the municipal authorities took their first steps in the use of free software and took part in the creation of the Software Livre RS (RS Free Software) project and the "International Free Software Forum". In 2003, the authorities officially assumed the use of free software as a government policy and began to break free of proprietary environments.

Free software in schools

The municipal schools of Porto Alegre are mainly located in areas with a high rate of social exclusion. The introduction of computers to the Rede Municipal de Ensino (Municipal Education Network) was defined as a politico-educational principle of the Municipal Department for Education of Porto Alegre and has resulted in progress from educators and in the comprehension of students as regards access to new technologies and the furthering of knowledge construction possibilities. Access to the global computer network paves the way for the educational task of using its countless resources for communication, research and interaction, all available in the digital context.

The "IT in education: a network of digital inclusion" project, incorporated into Porto Alegre's Municipal Education Network, uses free software. The preference for free software was down to the need to make available more suitable tools that were coherent with the municipality's particular educational policy: Escuela Ciudadana (Citizen School). The latter organises the World Forum on Education, also in Porto Alegre.

According to Professor Sofía Cavedon, a municipal member of parliament who was Municipal Secretary for Education and one of the architects of this policy, "the educational project should be viewed as an educational Utopia. This is because it offers the challenge of being a school for all and of being a generator of citizenship, with emancipating assessments and a relevant syllabus that welcomes the diverse cultures of the community. And a Utopia because it promotes the critical and creative construction of knowledge and educates students as the subjects of their learning".

The idea of Citizen School has been taking shape in the daily activities of the Municipal Education Network over the last 14 years and is the result of an enormous group effort in conformity with the decisions of the city's inhabitants, aided by the participative budget.

"It is in these spaces where, with the deeper involvement of the community, through new practices, reflection on results, systematisation and theoretical consideration, we search incessantly to build solutions that will guarantee learning with social quality for those who were unable to continue at school", says Sofía.

The classrooms with computers running free software are already benefiting 91.3% of the students of a system that interconnects 51 local school networks in diverse parts of the city, which amounts to 56,533 students and 3,762 teachers. All schools have free Internet access through a variety of technologies, such as private 64 kbps data communication lines, the PROCEMPA infovía, wireless and ADSL.

Implemented as part of the educational policy, the free software computer rooms are used to develop the content for various disciplines. The project, which has won national awards, attempts to break with the logic of social exclusion, creating means for the appropriation of IT at schools.

Community telecentres in Porto Alegre

The city of Porto Alegre has the most telecentres per inhabitant in Brazil, which it began to install in 2001. "The idea of community telecentres goes hand in hand with other initiatives adopted by the municipal authorities of Porto Alegre to reduce digital exclusion and promote e-citizenship, installing computer equipment and Internet connections in community spaces on the edge of the city, where access to these resources is socially and economically difficult for most of its inhabitants", explains Joel Raymundo, CEO of PROCEMPA (public IT company of Porto Alegre).

The telecentres of Porto Alegre are not "municipal" spaces; in other words, the centres where they operate are community spaces such as parent associations, churches, community associations, business associations and public buildings. The community also looks after administration of the centre through a Management Council and their priorities are defined at the participative budget assemblies.

The telecentres are the subject of many collaborations, as Joel Raymundo points out: "telecentres can be set up on the joint initiative of the public authorities and a variety of organisations, governmental or non-governmental, in which the Internet is positioned as a tool within the reach of the more disadvantaged members of the population, with specific applications to make their lives easier and place them in the new context of the information society. Social inclusion policies are strategic objectives of public action, given the serious shortcomings affecting large sectors of the population. In this sense, community telecentres form part of a policy to reduce social apartheid through digital inclusion".

Ilton Freitas, executive coordinator and one of the architects of the programme explains that "a digitally excluded citizen will be unable to access the flow of information, services and symbolic wealth on the Internet and will see his or her right to information and expression threatened by the new communication system brought in by information technologies.

The inclusion of individuals in the digital world is a new topic on the public agenda. The right to freedom of expression and information must be complemented by the right to digital knowledge. This new social right must be instrumented by a government policy that can universalise it. The State needs to democratise access to computers and the Internet and to foster the training of citizens in the use of these tools".

Porto Alegre now has 30 telecentres up and running, which serve 25,000 users.

Through PROCEMPA, the municipal authorities supply and install the hardware equipment, free software and logical network, carry out maintenance and meet the costs of the data transmission line.

Maintenance of the physical space, the supply of energy and office materials, and municipal security and conservation are all paid for by the community organisation or association. The initiative has collaborators from the private sector and civil society, including SEPRORGS (Trade Union of IT Companies of RS), the Pensamiento Digital Foundation, UFRGS (the Federal University of Río Grande do Sul), the organisation Pessoas.Info, UNESCO, SENAC, the Free Software RS Project and the Federal Government, through the Bank of Brazil, which donated many of the computers used in the telecentres.

Government migration plan

In accordance with a municipal law giving priority to the use of free software in the government and a political ruling by the executive branch of the municipal authorities, in 2003, technicians of PROCEMPA launched a bold plan to migrate the entire technological structure of the municipality of Porto Alegre – a metropolitan network with over six thousand computers in 370 subnetworks.

A new systems development environment with 44 system analysts, 50 programmers and 25 trainees is now ready to develop all of the information systems of the Porto Alegre municipality on a free platform.

Some technical details

The choices made were: PHP programming language for websites, Apache web server, MySQL database and the GNU/Linux operating system. To develop the initial pages, the municipal company created "Proweb Libre", a tool used to include content and manage the websites of all the organisations and departments of the municipal authorities. "We have a working system that can be connected with a password anywhere with Internet access", explains Volney Alves, Internet and e-Government supervisor at PROCEMPA. By the end of 2004, the sites of all municipal agencies will be remodelled using this tool.

For critical missions systems, the chosen option was the J2EE platform (Java 2 Enterprise), which avoided dependence on proprietary libraries and compilers. The productivity tool that will be used to develop these systems will be

These development environments are using version control (CVS – Concurrent Versions System).

In the municipality's network infrastructure, proxies using Microsoft software were replaced by a GNU/Linux proxy with the following services: HTTP/HTTPS/FTP support (Squid); SOCKS support (Dante); FTP uploading/downloading support (jftpgw); Site/URL blocking (SquidGuard); NTLM authentication (Samba); access querying (MALA).

The network services servers that used Microsoft Windows NT are being migrated to GNU/Linux to guarantee a heterogeneous environment in the transition, with support for authentication, printing, DNS, DHCP, NTP, Samba directory and LDAP.

Related links

Municipal authorities of Porto Alegre:

Charter of Principles of the World Social Forum:

Municipal Department for Education:

World Forum on Education:

Software livre project:

International Free Software Forum:

Telecentres of Porto Alegre:

Eclipse Foundation:

Telecentres in São Paulo

The city of São Paulo was founded in 1554 by Jesuit priests at a time when the Portuguese were occupying and exploiting the land in South America, around the sixteenth century.

It is now the financial, commercial and industrial capital of Brazil and one of the world's biggest metropolises with almost 16 million inhabitants in its metropolitan region. Of all Brazil's cities, São Paulo has the most marked social contrasts and cultural diversity.

High crime rates, a lack of basic infrastructure and major social problems caused by erratic growth are some of the traits of this typically Latin-American capital.

From all this, we can imagine that launching a digital inclusion programme in a city with these characteristics is no mean feat. In 2002, however, the e-Government Coordination Department of the municipal authorities of São Paulo began to respond to this challenge with the creation of its telecentre project.

This project is now one of the biggest digital inclusion projects of Latin America and has served almost 500 thousand people to date. And of course, it has all been done with free software.

Telecentres and the digital inclusion plan

The newest type of social exclusion and the inequalities left behind by the digital revolution can be seen in this great metropolis in the digital exclusion that denies its citizens access to information and technological knowledge, widening the existing gap between rich and poor.

The Digital Inclusion Plan, also known as e-citizenship, is setting up telecentres in the most deprived and peripheral areas of the city. It is based on the idea that it is only possible to combat digital exclusion if governments approach the task from the angle of government policy.

The premises for the telecentres were selected on the results of an analysis of the city's Human Development Index (HDI) and priority was given to regions with lower quality of life and less state presence. There are now 120 units up and running which, in addition to actions for teaching IT skills and using Internet tools, are linked to popular participation and citizenship programmes.

The main aims of the programme are to reduce the rates of social and digital exclusion, retrain professionals, requalify the space around the unit by increasing the flow of people through the streets in the area; spread free software, stimulate popular participation through management councils and generate community journalism.

Structure and operation of the telecentres

Each telecentre has 10 to 20 computers with a broadband Internet connection. Users can use the computers in a variety of ways: free use of the equipment, basic IT courses and special workshops. Free use of the equipment, as one might guess, is where users learn how to use the technology for their specific needs. Individuals can freely browse the Internet, conduct research, read the news, visit chat rooms, play on-line, scan documents and CVs, send e-mails and use the resources of the Internet to the full. The only content that is strictly prohibited is pornography.

Monitors are selected from the community to teach basic IT, basic GNU/Linux, OpenOffice and the GNOME GUI. The programme's biggest success is its special units, whose results suggest social inclusion. The programme teaches workshops on Community Communication, Connection of Knowledge, Website Creation, Environmental Education, Professional Training, Digital Art and Access to Public Services over the Internet.

Digital inclusion does not only involve guaranteeing access to computer programs and the Internet or training individuals to enter the labour market. This would be a very limited vision and could lead to failure because it suggests that knowledge of an office automation tool is enough to secure a job. The construction of alternatives to ensure improved quality of life must involve the community and immerse it in the digital world, applying technology across the board to deal with individual needs and the area's organisational requirements. If we can comprehend this, we will have tapped into the secret to the success of any digital inclusion programme.

The special units were set up to structure the community through cultural and educational activities that use technology as a means for the exercise of citizenship and reaching out to individuals. Hence, the collaboration of the participants has been vital to the construction of a collective project in the telecentres of São Paulo.

The telecentre employee is a further ally because he or she acts as an educator, catalyst and community agent all in one. Each unit has a set number of regular meetings but the group activities invite interested participants to work together to develop projects, which might be a presentation, show, website, fanzine, etc.

Each telecentre has a Management Council formed and selected by members of the community. This Council assists municipal employees with tax aspects and management of the space. Some telecentres were set up on pre-used or abandoned public premises as part of a process to regenerate the surrounding streets. Many were refurbished and adapted to receive the equipment and community. They open from Sunday to Sunday, except for public holidays.

There is another type of telecentre called the convened or community telecentre, installed in spaces provided by civil agencies or non-government organisations. They are set up in cooperation with the municipal authorities of São Paulo, which also provides the equipment, municipal employees and resources for maintenance. These spaces open from Monday to Saturday, except for public holidays.

Free software used in the telecentres: SACIX

The needs and experience of setting up telecentres led the municipal authorities to develop their own distribution called SACIX. Based on the Debian distribution (one of the most common distributions among government authorities, such as Porto Alegre and Extremadura), SACIX includes a free software package adapted for use in the telecentres that can be freely copied and distributed. There are two versions of SACIX, one for government agencies and civil organisations seeking to develop their own telecentres, and one for domestic users, who can have a diverse package of computer programs on their PC in GNU/Linux.



The free operating system used in the telecentres is GNU/Linux with the GNOME graphical user interface, chosen for its user-friendliness. The main applications available on SACIX are the package, which allows users to carry out basic office tasks, and G-Paint, which is a common design application.

Required investment

In order to offer users a suitable environment, the e-Government coordination department adopted a strategy of obtaining quality equipment at low prices.

Data obtained from the programme coordination department reveal that the cost of setting up a new telecentre, including refurbishment of the premises provided by the municipal authorities, is around € 34,570, or € 73,000 if the telecentre is to be built in a brand new space.

If the programs used on the equipment at the centres had not been free software, this cost would have increased by at least 50%. Besides economising on licence fees, the installation of free software allowed the use of less powerful computers with less sophisticated hardware and, hence, cheaper equipment, with a similar performance to superior and more expensive hardware and equipment running Microsoft Windows.

In most cases, to allow network administration and optimise processing, LTSP ( Linux terminal server project ) is used with a server with greater processing capacity to host the applications, which are then run by more lightweight clients.

Municipal authorities of Río das Ostras

Sand, oil and free software

The city of Río das Ostras is located between Macaé and Cabo Frio on the Costa do Sol, part of the beautiful coastline of Rio de Janeiro. It is a young municipality undergoing a major economic boom. Besides tourism, which triples its population of 45 thousand inhabitants in the summer months, it is also rich in oil and the income generated by this activity is sufficient to stimulate the local economy and fill the coffers of the municipal authorities.


Municipal authorities of Río das Ostras:

But besides its oil and the natural beauty of its beaches, this coastal city has become a reference across the country for its free software implementation initiatives.

Public & free

The municipal authority's free software project, entitled "Public & Free", was launched in 2001 on the initiative of the recently created IT Advisory Office, reporting directly to the Mayor's Office.

The initial concern was to reduce the costs of software licences for operating systems and office productivity suites for the whole of the local government. Replacing Microsoft Windows with GNU/Linux and Microsoft Office with a "Free Office" package was a great initial idea. But it did not stop there.

This initiative also resulted in benefits from the improved allocation of funds. What had previously been spent on software licences was used to purchase more computers, develop new solutions such as print centres, set up an Internet services provider (ISP) for the municipal authorities and invest in employee health at the municipal government with the purchase of equipment to prevent RSI (repetitive strain injury) and WROD (work-related operational disorders).

It was later seen that the programme had many technical advantages too, particularly in the area of maintenance. "We now encourage the use of free software on all government computers, even by trying to incentivise civil servants who collaborate with us on this – they are first to benefit from equipment improvements, such as new computers and liquid crystal display monitors. Our aim is to have 100% of our computers using free software", adds Marcos Vinicius Pecly Marini, the man behind the project and head of the municipal authority's IT Advisory Office.

Savings and technological freedom

The savings obtained by the use of free software were approximately € 370,000, since the municipal authorities did not purchase any more licences for operating systems (Microsoft Windows), office automation packages (Microsoft Office), databanks, development tools or graphics programs. "Besides an improved use of public funds and technical advantages, it was vital to adopt a stance whereby we could not fall victim to "technological slavery" using an expensive product that did not fully meet our needs and over which we had no control", explains Vinicius.

Free software has now been installed on more than 130 computers in the municipal authority of Río das Ostras, the municipal departments of Social Welfare, Administration, Planning, Sport and Leisure, Tourism, Social Communication, Attorney General's Office and Internal Control, as well as the Mayor's Office. It is also being used in special government projects, such as the "Un Bien Mayor" and "Curumim" youth centres, and in the activities of the "IT for all" programme.

Since the project launch, these activities have recorded a continuous rate of growth and the municipal authorities of Río das Ostras are discovering new possibilities every day for the use of free software. This year, the main focus is "social and digital inclusion" programmes. Free software has grown from the internal context of the municipal authorities and now has a constant presence in diverse activities connecting it to the population, such as the creation of telecentres and basic IT courses, by agreement with neighbourhood associations. All entirely in free software.

Tatuí, the Río das Ostras distribution

The municipal authorities of Río das Ostras created their own GNU/Linux distribution called Tatuí (working environment technology for IT users). This distribution is based on the work of the young Carlos Eduardo Morimoto, creator and developer of the most popular distribution in Brazil today, "Kurumim", which is even used by the Federal Government. Morimoto also runs the "Hardware Guide" site.


Hardware Guide:

Kurumim is a live CD (it runs directly from the CD without installing the programs on the computer hard drive) based on Knoppix/Debian and has a relatively easy installation process combined with an excellent recognition of hardware components. Another advantage is that its basic version only takes up 200 MB. It is now the easiest way to install the Debian distribution on workstations. Afterwards, we simply need to upgrade and install the new programs required by each user with the Debian "apt-get" commands.

The developers of Tatuí are in the process of completing a version of the program for IT laboratories in municipal schools. It must be distributed freely to students, which will allow them to use the programs and environments of their schools in their own homes. And because it is a live CD, the children will be able to use their parents' computers without this affecting the other software and files on them, since any changes made are saved to Tatuí. At the same time, the parents and guardians of the students will be able to discover free solutions in a less direct way.

The beta version of Tatuí for Education was presented to the teachers and coordinators of the municipal education department and a study group was set up to select other tools to incorporate into the system. There will be different versions for first and second (before and after what was previously the fourth year of the first level) segments.

The municipal authority of Río das Ostras has also developed and is now using SALI (Free Administrative System) to integrate the diverse sectors and procedures of the municipal authority, along with other systems in PHP and PostGreSQL. For Internet sites, the authorities decided on PHP-Nuke, which offers greater interaction and speed of content management.

All of these initiatives show that, besides oil and beautiful beaches, Río das Ostras has a great deal more to contribute to Brazil's information society programme.

The Brazilian Parliament and the information society

Parliamentary association for free software and digital inclusion

Brazil is now one of the few countries in the world to have a parliamentary association for free software and digital inclusion in the national congress (Senate and House of Representatives) and is one of the biggest parliamentary associations in the congress with 135 representatives and 26 senators. The association is chaired by Senator Serys Slhsarenko and its honorary chairman is no less a man than the former President of Brazil and current President of the National Congress, Senator José Sarney.

A story that began in the Basque Country

It is an interesting historical fact that the management of this association began in Bilbao, Spain, in February 2003, during the IT4ALL [1] event "Opportunities and Challenges for Regions in the New Information Society". It was a preliminary meeting prior to the first phase of the Information Society Summit and its Brazilian speakers were the President of the Congress, Senator José Sarney, and myself. On the last day of the event, following the brilliant addresses of Diego Saravia and Manuel Castells, I had the pleasure of talking in my speech about the main ideas and philosophies of free software and the status of our movement in Brazil, in the presence of Senator Sarney, who was waiting his turn to give the closing speech for the event. In the evening, at the hotel, we had the chance to exchange impressions on the idea of the information society and free software. This meeting sparked a keen interest in the Senator that would have important consequences for the future of free software in Brazil".


"Opportunities and Challenges for Regions in the New Information Society" and preliminary meeting prior to the first phase of the Information Society Summit, organised by the Basque Government and the Diputación Foral de Bizkaia - Spain, with the backing of the EU's Directorate-General for the Information Society and by the UN/UIT through the Executive Secretariat of the "World Summit on the Information Society"

A week of free software in the Brazilian Parliament

On 2 April, we met Senator Sarney in Brasilia to discuss the initiatives of the National Congress to promote free software. His interest in the issue led to the organisation of the "1st Week of Free Software of the Legislative Body" in August of that year"*. Under the slogan "Free Software and the Development of Brazil", the relationship between free software and digital inclusion and the country's development were discussed in the Brazilian Parliament throughout the week.

Richard Stallman and Miguel de Icaza were speakers at the event and took part in its inaugural act. The Brazil free software community also participated in the event on various panels.

The speakers at the prestigious inaugural act, besides Richard Stallman, included the presidents of Brazil's two legislative chambers, Senator José Sarney, the MP João Paulo Cunha and three of Lula's cabinet ministers: the Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, the Minister for Culture, Gilberto Gil, and the Minister for Science and Technology, Roberto Amaral. The addresses of these government officials were the important political statements needed to consolidate free software as a relevant political issue for Brazil.


Opening address of the President of the National Congress, Senator Sarney

Minister Gil's speech


Address of Minister Dirceu

"This event organised by the national congress is a milestone showing that free software is more than a mere possibility for our growth; indeed, it is here to stay", affirmed the Chief of Staff, José Dirceu.

"Today, we are closing the Week of Free Software and the 'Free Software and the Development of Brazil' seminar. This week's success is a strong indication of the vitality of IT in Brazil and has brought me great personal satisfaction; thus, I feel truly rewarded for being a part of its organisation.

This event is of strategic importance because it marks the adoption of a position vis-à-vis free software by many areas of the State. Brazil decided that the public sector would consider open programs as an alternative to be fully exploited and stimulated, both in its economic aspects and, more importantly, in its conceptual aspects. It has been adopted in order to discover and carve out paths of cultural independence, of creation, of national identity.

From now on, with the aim of disseminating IT, we will always keep in mind the idea that computer languages must be public, developed by users, and not subject to international monopolies", stated Senator José Sarney in his closing address of the event.


Closing address of the President of the National Congress, Senator Sarney

"Education is an essential stage of this road. I believe that, as Professor Stallman suggests, our children should learn the basics of programming in open languages so that they can play a part in their evolution and retain their independence", concluded Sarney.

Creation of FRENSOFT

Crowning the efforts of the ministers Walter Pinheiro and Sergio Miranda, pioneering in their historic defence of free software in the Brazilian Parliament, the end result of this event was the formation of FRENSOFT (the Mixed Parliamentary Association for Free Software and Digital Inclusion, whose President is Senator Serys Slhsarenko.

"The result of these debates is the Parliamentary Association for Free Software, which is proving itself to be an influential group that will bring to the agenda of our legislative chamber the concern for supporting open systems in order to instrumentalise our independence in the IT sector", concluded Senator Sarney.

The Parliamentary Association for Free Software and Digital Inclusion is strengthening institutional actions and extending the possibilities of alliances needed to consolidate free software in our country, revealing itself as one of the most important political initiatives for the construction of a Brazilian alternative to the information society.

Brazil at the Summit on the Information Society

The first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, an official UN event held from 11 to 13 December 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland, was marked by profound differences in the interests of representatives of the governments of the wealthier countries and the bloc of developing and poor countries spearheaded by Brazil, India, South Africa, Egypt and Argentina.

The government delegations of the United States and the European Union almost always worked as a united front, leading the conservative bloc, and did not beat about the bush when it came to defending the sole interests of the big US monopolies.

Socialisation of knowledge at the Summit on the Information Society

One of the major controversies at the Geneva Summit revolved around the free software alternative and the socialisation of knowledge as instruments of digital inclusion and stimulation for innovation and technological development. Brazil and India led the bloc that saw focusing on the exchange of technological knowledge between peoples as being more suited to the development of a democratic society of information and inclusion, being the only chance for developing countries to make up for their technological backwardness.

The Brazilian thesis was taken up by the bloc led by the United States, which championed the alternative of tightening intellectual property laws on digital works, increasing penalties and criminalising users who seek to copy and freely share works on the Internet. Most of the governments of the wealthy countries, led by the United States, revealed that they wished to maintain a tight and selfish control over technology, protecting themselves by intensifying the ideology of intellectual property.

Besides being a clearly protectionist policy, this stance proposes an information society "without information" and without shared knowledge. In effect, a disinformation society. Clearly, poor and developing countries would be left to play the role of consumers of technology and "packaged" products manufactured in the northern hemisphere, preventing universities, research centres, private sector companies, governments and the population in general from mastering and obtaining knowledge of the technology being – or which ought to be – disseminated.

International governance of the Internet

Another relevant topic was the debate on the "democratisation of Internet governance". The bloc, also led by Brazil, argued that control of the addresses, names and management of the Internet should be tripartite (governments, civil society and the private sector) and be subject to an international body. ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is the body currently in charge of establishing the rules of Internet use around the world and it is unilaterally dependent on the US Government.

The Brazilian Government does not argue that governments or even large companies should govern the Internet. However, it does favour the increased participation of users and civil society in Internet definitions. The Brazilian government also argues that in government forums debating Internet governance, all countries should be represented multilaterally – not only the US, as is currently the case.

Digital solidarity fund

The African countries and a ruling of the World Summit of Cities and Local Authorities, held in Lyon (France) a week before the Geneva Summit, supported the creation of an International Solidarity Fund for Digital Inclusion. The proposal is also backed by Brazil and the bloc of developing countries. The resources for this fund could come from a tax on a small part of the profits obtained from the international transactions of IT companies, for example.

The representatives of the countries led by the United States wished to have no talk of this fund, even if it were a non-governmental voluntary fund. They argued that the "market" should lay down the rules for digital inclusion; in other words, whoever has the resources to pay for and purchase from the monopolistic giants of the north will be able to take part in the information society. The others will need to wait their turn in the long line of digitally excluded individuals.

In Tunisia, for a more inclusive information society

In Geneva, all these points had a questionable and contradictory outcome, owing to the tough diplomatic negotiations. Brazil was a key player on the world stage and this was important, but the result of the Geneva Summit was light years away from reflecting and revealing new ideas for the information society or any type of innovative thinking. It was a summit dominated by "conservative reaction" to the new possibilities opened up by Internet and the digital revolution. The debate must continue and we must try to spread these ideas among civil society until the second phase, which will take place in Tunisia in 2005. There is a great deal to be done. We need to lay this debate on the table and show society the positions adopted by its governments.

Representatives of civil society at the Geneva Summit approved an alternative statement in line with the position adopted by the Brazilian Government and its international bloc.

I consider it vital to organise the support of international public opinion immediately so that the world's governments begin to comply with the wishes of peoples across the planet in the search for a new, more democratic and more inclusive information society. This will allow the benefits and results of the digital revolution to be considered as human rights and not as a simple tool for the accumulation and concentration of wealth.

The digital revolution is on our side.