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Venezuela: A law to regulate the Internet raises controversy

After several months of rumors, last friday it was confirmed that Venezuelan government is boosting a law reform to regulate the access and usage of the Internet within the country.

The law that will be reformed is the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television (known as Resorte Law). This bill was introduced last friday before the National Assembly and will be discussed next thursday, apparently for its approval in the last weeks of service of current members, who will be replaced next january 5th. Also, a new reform of the Law for Telecommunications will be discussed, apparently in order to declare radio, television and telecommunication services, a public service.

The project contemplates the inclusion of electronic media as a subject of the law, modification of time slots for message diffusion, the inclusion of a list of messages whose transmission won't be allowed by any means, and several modifications of administrative penalty procedures.Also, article 212 of the proposed law foresee the creation of a national Network Access Point, controlled by government:

El Estado creará un punto de interconexión o punto de acceso a la red de los proveedores de servicios de Internet en Venezuela con la finalidad de manejar el tráfico con origen y destino en Venezuela, con el objeto de utilizar de manera más eficiente las redes del país dado el carácter estratégico del sector.

The State will create an interconnection point or Network Access Point of all internet service providers in Venezuela, in order to manage all traffic with origin and destination in Venezuela, to use more efficiently the country's networks, given the strategic character of the sector.

Although authorities haven't given much explanations in reference to the law project, it is understood that, considering previously explained aspects, that the so-called “time slots”, would be applicable through the NAP, which would restrain all traffic forbidden under the law, according to its content.

Users expressed not only their disagreement, but also their opinion that the law would be inapplicable and manifest a profound unknowledge of Internet and its structure and operation. Espacio Público (an NGO devoted to civil rights in Venezuela) has declared:

El proyecto incurre en graves deficiencias de técnica legislativa que permiten que los funcionarios que tengan la responsabilidad de aplicar este instrumento legal puedan actuar arbitraria y discrecionalmente, lo que constituye en sí mismo una vulneración del derecho humano a la libertad de expresión y permite su aplicación selectiva e interesada.

The project incurs in serious technical deficiencies that allow officials who'll have the responsibility to implement this legal instrument to act arbitrarily and discretionary, which constitutes a violation of human right to freedom of expression and allows selective application.

Also, they have stated that generic prohibitions contained in the law would violate the American Convention, which limits restrictions to freedom of speech, only to messages promoting war and violence. The law, in a long list of prohibitions, includes, for instance “any message that attempts against morality”.

Besides that, the bill emphasizes the prohibition of anonimity. Government's spokespersons have said that the law attempts to restrict the difussion of messages “that could constitute mediatic manipulations addressed to foster unrest or disturb public order”. However, what Venezuelan government considers “to foster unrest” remains doubtful since users have been arrested for their online behavior.

In the meantime, twitterers are using the hashtag #internetlibre (free internet) in order to express their views and debate about the measures.

Link: Document of presentation of the Bill before the National Assembly (ES – PDF), in the website Espacio Público (ES).

El Universal: Venezuelan govn't seeks media law to regulate the Internet.

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