Regulation of São Paulo cyber cafes proposed

SAO PAULO (10/15/2003) - While many Brazilian cities have tried to impose restrictions on the operations of cyber cafes -- known in Brazil as Lan Houses -- that offer network games and to limit their attendance by children and teenagers, São Paulo is about to pass a specific law to regulate network game houses.

The bill, which aims to regulate cyber cafes, was proposed by the city alderman William Woo and is expected to be voted on in São Paulo's city council by the end of November.

According to Woo, the bill is not prohibitive, but regulatory, unlike the rule proposed by the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Cãesar Maia, which was sanctioned in early September and prohibits underage teenagers from playing violent games in cyber cafes.

"The goal of my bill is not to impose time limits or prohibitions, but to have cyber cafes provide their users with a healthier environment," he claims.

According to Woo, cyber cafes are important venues for digital inclusion and should not be opposed, but rather motivated to function in a healthy way. Here follow some excerpts of his interview with IDG Now!

IDG Now! - How did this idea of regulating game houses come along?

William Woo - I have carried out a number of activities related to public security and I have a strong relationship with the Community Security Councils (Consegs). In these councils, I have frequently listened to mothers complaining about their children spending too much time in cyber cafes at the expense of study time. Therefore, I wrote a bill last year which originally attempted to restrict the operations of cyber cafes during night time. After much debate on the issue, the bill was changed and now it has a motivational character, aiming to regulate cyber cafe facilities.

IDG Now! - What type of regulation does the bill propose?

William Woo - For example, the bill specifies that cyber cafes must have natural lighting and must not function in poorly-lit environments that resemble casinos. It also bans the sale of alcohol and cigarettes for those under 18, and imposes the creation of separated smoking environments. There is also a paragraph according to which game houses must provide facilities for the handicapped.

IDG Now! - One of the articles has it that minors will need their parents' permission to attend cyber cafes between 10pm to 6am. In addition, it also declares that cyber cafes must prevent minors from using the computers for more than three straight hours. How would these rules work in practice?

William Woo - The parental permission would work as a way for parents to know the places their children are attending. The time restriction, in turn, would help to avoid Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) and even avoid events such as those that happened in Asia, where people died after they had been playing for over 48 hours on the computer. In my opinion, parents should be able to determine the amount of time their children are allowed to play, since it may be hazardous to spend many straight hours staring at a computer screen. Nothing in excess is good.

IDG Now! - Who would be responsible for enforcing the rules and issuing the R$3000 fine for the non-complying establishments?

William Woo - The law would be regularized by the city's executive power and the inspection would be under the responsibility of its regional administrative units, which in turn would use their inspecting agents.

IDG Now! - In Rio de Janeiro, the mayor Cãesar Maia sanctioned a law that prohibits those under 18 to play violent games in cyber cafes. The penalties include even the cancellation of the houses' permits. What do you think of this law? Are there differences between it and your project?

William Woo - If we become intransigent with specific issues, we may end up by shutting down entire sectors of the economy. We cannot fail to recognize some of the values of today's society. We have to recognize that cyber cafes are important instruments for digital inclusion and that computer games have positive effects on the user's coordination and strategic reasoning, provided they are not played in excess. What we have to avoid is that unethical companies perform predatory competition by offering unhealthy environments, for example. That lack of regulation may give way to misconduct.

IDG Now! - Legislation specialists have objected to Rio's initiative by claiming that the restrictions imposed on the games and on cyber cafe access belong to the scope of federal legislation. What do you make of that?

William Woo - The goal of my bill is not to impose time limits or prohibitions, but to have cyber cafes provide their users with a healthier environment.


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