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Brazil's NSA-Avoiding Underwater Cable to Europe Could Be Catching Silicon Valley's Eyes

First Posted: Feb 26, 2016 04:47 PM EST

Brazil's planned underwater cable, which would link the country directly to Europe's Internet, will likely bring lots of technical and economic advantages to the country and the rest of Latin America in general.

Another explicit goal of the multimillion dollar project is to avoid U.S. espionage by cutting the U.S.'s Internet infrastructure out of the loop. That aspect has piqued Silicon Valley's interest. According to Bloomberg, American technology giants like Google and Facebook are interested in using the Brazilian direct link, which is expected to be up and running by late 2017.

The prospective support of Google and Facebook -- and likely others with deep pockets and skepticism of the U.S. government's powerful digital spying apparatus -- could help Brazil pay for the project, which is expected to cost $250 million.

Brazilian Communications Minister Andre Figueiredo spoke about the project to media at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain on Tuesday. Figueiredo said the wire "should be funded by commercialization of its traffic," and added that Brazil's state-owned telecom company, Telecomunicacoes Brasileiras SA (or Telebras), "is already marketing the cable to the European Union and companies such as Google and Facebook, which have shown interest in it."

The 3,660-mile cable will link Brazil to its shared-language European partner Portugal. It will be constructed jointly by Telebras and Spanish company IslaLink Submarine Cables SL. It will be the first direct cable of its kind between the two continents, direct from Fortaleza to Portugal, bypassing the United States, which is the world's most centralized hub for high-speed Internet traffic.

Underwater communications cables have crisscrossed the globe since the telegraph. Even in the era of communications satellites, fiber optic cables remain the fastest and most capable method for exchanging the veritable explosion of information we call the Internet.

Brazil's biggest access points to the Internet at the moment go through either Florida or points along the upper east coast of the U.S., where they meet with dozens of others from around the globe.

Brazil has been wary of this fact since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency's mass surveillance projects. Much of the leak concerned taps on those same fiber optic ports of call, by which the NSA indiscriminately vacuumed up communications.

In 2013, as part of the Snowden leaks, it was revealed that U.S. intelligence had eavesdropped on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's private and official communications, causing even more alarm. Later leaked documents revealed the NSA was tapping personal information of Brazilian citizens and looking into state-owned oil company and source of scandal Petrobras. Brazil changed its government communications platform and has led the charge for an "Internet Bill of Rights" since the revelations.

But that wasn't enough for Brazil, looking forward at the future of the global Internet economy and back, in sidelong glances, at the U.S.'s spying practices. Brazil announced in late 2015 that it would begin laying the direct undersea data cable. The country also sought to deepen ties with the EU with additional moves like boosting cooperation with Europe on the development of 5G wireless networks.

As for the Silicon Valley companies named by Figueiredo as interested in Brazil's new Internet link, neither Google nor Facebook have officially commented.

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