Cuba: Telecommunications decree restricts freedom of expression

(Washington, DC) – A new decree and accompanying law announced by the Cuban government severely restricts freedom of expression online and threatens user privacy, Human Rights Watch said today. Governments in Latin America, as well as the European Union and the United States, should urgently expose this attack on freedom of expression and urge Cuba to lift it.

On August 17, 2021, the government released Legislative Decree 35 and several accompanying standards regulating the use of telecommunications, including the Internet and radio, and the government’s response to “cybersecurity incidents”. The decree, which has the stated purpose of “defending” the Cuban revolution, requires telecommunications providers to interrupt, suspend or suspend their services if a user publishes information that is “fake” or “public morality” and “respect.” the public “affect order.”

“The Internet has sparked a rights revolution in Cuba that has enabled people to communicate, report grievances, and organize protests in practically impossible ways,” said Juan Pappier, senior America researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Leaders in Latin America, the European Union and the United States should keep silent as the Cuban government is restricting access to this vital tool for Cubans to exercise their rights.”

Even before these new regulations were enacted, the Cuban government had imposed abusive restrictions on communication and freedom of expression on the Internet.

According to the new Legislative Decree 35, telecommunications users are obliged to prevent the spread of “fake news or reports” and are prohibited from using the services in a way that promotes the “collective security”, the “general good”, the ” public “morality” or “respect for public order”.

Telecommunications providers, including Internet and telephone services and “online applications”, have an obligation to “suspend”, “suspend” or “terminate” their services if users allegedly violate these broad obligations. Providers can be fined or lose their license if they fail to comply.

Under international human rights law, laws may restrict freedom of expression and association only when necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate goal, such as protecting national security or the rights of others. Legislative Decree 35 contains several broad provisions that are inconsistent with international human rights law and could easily be used to violate rights on a large scale and target critics, Human Rights Watch said.

Legislative Decree 35 also requires telecommunications providers to provide a wide range of information and services to government agencies. According to the regulation, the providers of public security facilities should provide the “technical facilities and services they need” and the Ministry of Communications should provide the “information that [the ministry] Definitely. “These vague commitments could open the door to inappropriate violations of the right to privacy, Human Rights Watch said.

In addition, a “cybersecurity” resolution appended to Decree / Law 35 contains dangerous provisions referring to protected language as “cybersecurity incidents”. Cybersecurity typically refers to protecting the availability, confidentiality, and integrity of information and the underlying infrastructure from attacks. But the new Cuban legislation instead treats online content as a potential security threat, including “spreading fake news”, “defamation that harms the country’s reputation”, “inciting protests”, “promoting social indiscipline” and undermining of someone’s fame or self-respect. ”

According to the resolution, the authorities, apparently from the ministries of communications, home affairs and the armed forces, are obliged to “prevent”, “detect”, “investigate” and “mitigate” cybersecurity incidents, including by taking measures to “eradicate” them. seize. Officials must respond to incidents that are deemed to be “high” or “very high” such as “spreading fake news” or “promoting social indiscipline” as a priority.

Cuban legislation is not clear about how so-called “cybersecurity incidents” are “discovered” and “eradicated”. However, preventing and deleting certain types of content would require extensive monitoring and filtering, which inevitably leads to excessive censorship and surveillance, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has documented how countries around the world have passed similar abusive “cybercrime” and “cybersecurity” laws that inappropriately restrict rights and are used to persecute journalists, human rights defenders, technologists, opposition politicians and artists.

Among them, Russia introduced Article 207.1 of the Criminal Code in March 2020 for “publicly disseminating knowingly false information in circumstances threatening the life and safety of citizens”, punishable by up to three years of freedom. In October 2020, Congress of Nicaragua passed a cybercrime law criminalizing the “publication” or “dissemination” on the Internet of “false” or “distorted” information that is “likely to spread fear, fear or fear”. Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law of 2007 criminalizes “producing anything that harms public order, religious values, public morals or the inviolability of private life, or composing, broadcasting or storing over an information network”.

The internet is very expensive, which makes the cost prohibitive for many Cubans. Many telecommunications services are exclusively offered by the State Telecommunications Company of Cuba SA (ETECSA) and are controlled by the Cuban government, which exercises its ability and legal mandate to restrict connectivity in ways that are inconsistent with international human rights law.

The government has repeatedly imposed targeted and arbitrary restrictions on critics and dissidents on the Internet, including in the context of its ongoing systematic attacks on independent artists and journalists. Several organizations also reported nationwide internet outages during the July 2021 protests, which faced beatings and hundreds of arbitrary arrests, followed by restrictions on social media and messaging platforms.

In July 2019, Legislative Decree 370/2018 on the “Informatization of Society” came into force, prohibiting the dissemination of information “which is contrary to the social interest, morality, morality and integrity of the people”. The authorities have used the law to interrogate and punish journalists and critics and to confiscate their work materials.

“The Cuban government presents this law as a measure to strengthen cybersecurity in the face of threats, but it is essentially trying to protect itself from criticism and dissent,” said Pappier.

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