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October 21 2013

Ecuador's New Penal Code Would Violate Internet Privacy

National Assembly of Ecuador. Photo by Presidencia de la República del Ecuador on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

National Assembly of Ecuador. Photo by Presidencia de la República del Ecuador on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

All links lead to Spanish-language pages unless otherwise noted.

The Ecuadorian National Assembly recently approved the Código Orgánico Integral Penal (Organic Penal Code, or COIP), which has raised concerns within civil society organizations. Certain articles of the COIP threaten “the inviolability, storage, and subsequent analysis of information that citizens generate on the Internet, and on any other telecommunications platforms like landline or cellular telephones.”

The new code combines various previous issues of concern, such as the proposal that slander on social media networks could be penalized in Ecuador [en], which—although it ultimately was not included in the COIP draft—and paints a generally bleak picture of the intentions and the future of the Internet in this South American country.

Organizations Usuarios Digitales (Digital Users), Apertura Radical (Radical Openness), and Asociación de Software Libre del Ecuador (Free Software Association of Ecuador) have explained that the way the law is proposed, all telecommunications services, “like ISP, Internet cafes, WiFi zones, businesses that rent phones or allow Internet access, study centers that offer Internet access, and even people who loan their telephone or Internet connection” will have to store the data and connection traffic of the users, despite the risks that this entails.

Unbelievable!!! RT @alfredovelazco @MauroAndinoR Article 474 #COIP: cybercafes must videorecord users and their navigation http://t.co/X3L3XrcVL3

— Rosa María Torres (@rosamariatorres) October 15, 2013

The issue is generating interest in the traditional media, due to its potential impact on the ways in which Ecuadorians use the Internet. And the public has also started to worry:

@gabrielaespais Presumption of suspicion as a premise, violation of the privacy of online communications #Ecuador #COIP http://t.co/t9pmeLNSWc

— Valeria Betancourt (@valeriabet) October 10, 2013

We Ecuadorians are criminals until proven otherwise #COIP. Are we making progress, Homeland?

— María Eugenia Garcés (@meugegarces) October 18, 2013

“I could not return to this country (Ecuador) because I would not be able to access the Internet” #Stallman [software freedom activist] on the Penal Code article: http://t.co/bX3e6Tpy2y

— Radios Libres (@RadiosLibres) October 18, 2013

The aforementioned organizations are taking on the task of raising awareness about the issue, in order to try to put some pressure on the government so that it vetoes the Organic Penal Code's Article 474, which violates citizens’ right to privacy in their Internet communications.

The “Open Letter to President Rafael Correa and Assembly Members on Internet Privacy and the Draft of the Integral Organic Penal Code,” published on citizen media and various blogs, states, among other things, the following:

Instamos a la Asamblea Nacional y al Gobierno de Ecuador a compatibilizar la Ley propuesta con los estándares internacionales de derechos humanos a fin de precautelar con el mayor rigor la privacidad, la libertad de expresión y la libertad de asociación, en la perspectiva de fortalecer el sistema democrático acorde a los Principios Internacionales sobre la Aplicación de los Derechos Humanos a la Vigilancia de las Comunicaciones [1].

Solicitamos, por tanto, que no se aprueben artículos del Proyecto del Código Orgánico Integral Penal que vulneran los derechos ciudadanos y nos ponen en indefensión frente al almacenamiento indiscriminado y posterior análisis de nuestra información.

We urge the National Assembly and the Government of Ecuador to make the proposed law compatible with international human rights standards, in order to safeguard privacy, freedom of expression, and freedom of association with the greatest rigor, in the context of strengthening the democratic system in accordance with the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance [1] [en].

Therefore, we request that the articles of the Draft of the Integral Organic Penal Code which violate citizens’ rights and leave us defenseless against indiscriminate storage and subsequent analysis of our data are not approved.

Given that President Correa threatened to resign when a group of ruling-party Assembly members promoted the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape, in a proposal of the Integral Organic Penal Code debated in the Assembly, it seems unlikely that he will recant and veto Article 474 of COIP.

July 15 2013

MERCOSUR and the Future of the Internet in Latin America

MERCOSUR building in Montevideo by Vince Alongi under a Creative Commons Attribution License

MERCOSUR building in Montevideo by Vince Alongi. (CC BY 2.0)

Last Friday, Latin American government leaders issued a strong statement against the mass surveillance of their citizens by the US government at an emergency meeting of MERCOSUR, South America's leading economic and diplomatic alliance. Approaching the meeting, a collective of activists, academics and NGOs from Latin America wrote an open letter [es] to MERCOSUR, inviting leaders to consult with civil society in building human rights-protective policies for the region. The letter put forth a collaborative vision for Internet policy making:

We want Latin America to become the model both of laws and practices allowing and enabling us to exercise our human rights to the maximum degree. The espionage problem we are facing right now is…an opportunity for us. Working together, governments and civil society, we can design a regional policy allowing us to develop in full all the potential of new technologies while protecting our citizens.

Civil society leaders encouraged governments to hold open, participatory policy-making processes and enable citizens to collaborate in the design of a new regional approach to the Internet, embracing principles of free expression, access, openness, privacy and the free flow of information.

In their declaration [es], MERCOSUR leaders rejected the interception of communications, characterizing it as a violation of human rights, the right to privacy, and the right to information (see item 8). They recognized the importance of ICTs for development and the urgent need for robust infrastructure in the region, especially broadband access (see items 45, 46).

They also embraced free software:

We support free software development, as it will enable us to develop regional ICTs solution, so we will achieve a real appropriation and promotion of free knowledge and free transfer of technologies, reducing our dependence on solutions from transnational companies which are not willing to respect our emergent industries. We affirm our interest in the promotion of free software in all national digital inclusion programs.

The statement emphasized free software principles for the effective use, implementation, research and transfer of technology and established as priority the development of regional public policy to achieve these ends.

If MERCOSUR leaders are able to to act on their stated aims, working with other countries and civil society groups in the region and reforming national-level legislation to meet the standards they put forth last week, the region could provide a powerful example for the global south, becoming a safe haven for expression, innovation and human development.

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