The undersigned organizations and citizens express our concern about the Constitutional Law of Cyberspace bill of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, a document that has been leaked to the media. According to the information received, the bill could be approved this month, January 2019, by the Constituent National Assembly (ANC).
Since 2007, the Venezuelan State has developed public policies aimed at controlling freedom of expression and access to information on the internet. The law on social responsibility in radio, television, and electronic media (2010), the Decree of the State of Economic Exception and Emergency, and the Constitutional Law against Hate, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance promulgated by the ANC (2017), which violate online rights, stand out. Internet in Venezuela is becoming less free. Frequently, websites and online services are blocked. In the second half of 2018, important news sites and access to the Tor network were blocked, and from January 12 to 14, 2019, Wikipedia was blocked by the state’s internet provider (CANTV). In Venezuela, users have been arrested and criminally accused for actions such as tweeting information publicly available on web pages, in violation of the right to private communications.
The Constitutional Law of Cyberspace justifies and further expands the powers of the government to control and monitor the use of the internet without institutional checks, which represents a serious threat to the human rights of Venezuelans. The bill creates a national cyber defense system, under the doctrine of “integral defense of the Nation” with authority over a vaguely defined “Cyberspace of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” causing Venezuelans to be limited to a controlled, isolated, and fragmented network.
In short, this law has a securitization approach to the use of information and communication technologies, based on ideas of sovereignty, national security, and “control of internal order” (Articles 3, 5, 7, and 18) that is used to justify taking measures that violate fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, the right to participate in public affairs, and the protection of personal data. It also extends the concept of terrorism to any activity carried out on or through the internet that may “cause terror” or “economic, political, or social destabilization” (Article 4), which would allow sanctioning of the expression of legitimate opinions.
The greatest threats to human rights and international standards are present in the following provisions:
- It does not acknowledge that the Venezuelan State is the guardian of the fundamental human rights of all Venezuelans. It wrongly places the user as liable for security in Cyberspace (Article 13), and it also imposes a duty on citizens to report irregular situations that put at risk or affect the use and legal access to Cyberspace, internal peace, political, economic, or social order, and/or general well-being (Article 24).
- It contradicts the doctrine and legislation on personal data protection, since it requires users to respect the integrity of personal data (Article 20), instead of guaranteeing protection from the State. The bill authorizes the State to process sensitive data without the consent of the user (Art. 22). It orders that the authority have access to information stored by public and private entities when required, for reasons of “defense and security,” “internal order,” and “protection of citizen rights and interests” (Articles 18, 19 and 23), and allows the authority to supervise, monitor and record the data and information transmitted through any internet or telecommunications service (Article 25).
- It forces messaging service providers (which may include social networks and instant messaging services) to censor content without prior judicial order, respect for minimum guarantees of freedom of expression, or due process. They are also compelled to have the arduous duty of “preventing, reporting, neutralizing, or eliminating the disclosure of data and information that threatens the honor, privacy, intimacy, own image, reputation of the people, deceptive and illicit advertising, hate promotion, intolerance, discrimination, harassment, sexual exploitation, child pornography, or economic, political or social destabilization of the Nation”(Article 26).
- It creates the dangerous concept of “content security” to legitimize tools, policies, rules, and “preventive actions” to “counteract hatred” on the internet (Articles 10 and 11). This is in line with the provisions of the “Constitutional Law against Hate, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance” sanctioned by the ANC in 2017 and which is being used to persecute political opponents.
- It creates an authority with excessive powers and under the wing of the Executive Power, since the directors will be directly and freely appointed and removed by the President of the Republic (Article 37). Among the disproportionate powers attributed to the authority are: to determine what constitutes “access and correct use of cyberspace,” perform unlimited surveillance tasks, apply excessive sanctions, adopt preventive measures against everything that qualifies as cybercrime, cyber-terrorist, cyber-attack, or any message that might be considered harmful or a threat (Article 35).
- It broadly and arbitrarily defines what constitutes the critical infrastructure of the cyberspace and authorizes the discretionary control over it by the cyberdefense entity (Chapter III).
- It establishes that data holders, service providers, and users must, upon request, provide access to the authority to any “technological resource” they have and that they have the obligation to yield it (Article 24).
For all the above reasons, we oppose the approval of this bill. The legitimacy of the Constituent National Assembly has been questioned by Venezuelan and international institutions. Laws regulating the use of information and communication technologies should be promulgated by widely recognized institutions to maintain trust in the internet ecosystem and through democratic and multi stakeholder procedures, strictly complying with human rights standards.
The bill presents a serious threat to the fundamental rights of all Venezuelans. We request that the international protection authorities be on watch and state their position regarding the violations of fundamental rights that this bill proposes.
Signatories (updating on a rolling basis)
Internet Society, Capítulo Venezuela
VE sin Filtro
Internet Society, Capítulo Panamá
Internet Society, Capítulo Uruguay
Comité por una Radiotelevisión de Servicio Público
Dirección de Telecomunicaciones y Servicios. Universidad de Los Andes.
Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA)
Fundacion Internet Bolivia.org
Comité para la Protección de los Periodistas (Committee to Protect Journalists – CPJ)
League of African bloggers and cyberactivists for democracy – AFRICTIVISTES
Open Net Korea
Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación – UCAB
IPLEX Costa Rica
Instituto Prensa y Libertad de Expresión
Centro de Estudios en Gobernanza de Internet – Facultad de Derecho Universidad San Martín de Porres (CGIUSMP)
Internet Society, Capítulo Honduras
Red de Desarrollo Sostenible Honduras
Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Los Andes
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay
Asociación Nacional de la Prensa de Bolivia (ANP)
Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI)
Creative Commons, Capitulo Venezuela
Centro Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Sobre Internet
Digital Rights Foundation – Pakistan
Point of View – India
SMEX – Libano
Internet Sans Frontières
Fundacion Datos Protegidos
Human Rights Foundation
Index on Censorship
Reporteros sin Fronteras (RSF)
Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión
Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)
Internet Democracy Project
Internet Society, Capítulo El Salvador
La Fundación Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes (EsLaRed)
R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
Association for Progressive Communications – APC
Raisa Urribarri – Universidad de los Andes
William Peña – Periodista independiente especializado en Telecom
Andrés Cañizález – Profesor universitario y periodista.
Luis Carlos Díaz Vázquez – Periodista
Milagros Socorro – Periodista
Iván Méndez – Periodista
Luis Núñez – Universidad de Los Andes
Jesús Urbina – Dirección general de Comunicación de la Universidad del Zulia.
Moraima Guanipa, periodista y docente universitaria.
Alejandra Stolk – DTES-ULA
Soudeh Rad – Spectrum
Kemel Zaidan Maluf – Analista de sistemas
Edmundo Vitale – Universidad de Los Andes