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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—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.

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