The contentious political situation in Venezuela is deteriorating, with reports of violent clashes with police that leave protesters injured or dead. The president has now issued a decree to authorize government surveillance and censorship online. Authorities have already blocked news websites, and the situation for free expression is getting worse.
Access Now has joined our partners in an open letter to alert the world to what is happening in Venezuela and demand that the government cease this attack on fundamental rights. Following is our translation of the letter in English:
On the harm to our fundamental rights online under the extended state of emergency in Venezuela
On May 16, 2017, the Venezuelan government issued Executive Order 2489, which extends the “state of emergency” in Venezuela that has been in place since May 2016. This new extension authorizes internet policing and content filtering. This measure deepens the existing restrictions to the free flow of information. These restrictions include government blocking of streaming news outlets such as VivoPlay, VPITV, and CapitolioTV. Other concerning practices in Venezuela include acts of military and police aggression toward journalists and civilian reporters, and the detention of citizens who have published content on social networks.
This extension is taking place in the context of a general deterioration of telecommunications in Venezuela, which came about as a consequence of divestment in the sector in the last 10 years. Due to the divestment, Venezuela is now the country with the worst-quality internet connection in Latin America. Given the censorship of traditional media, the internet has become an essential tool for the people of Venezuela to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression and access to information.
The measures the Venezuelan government has taken to restrict online content are restrictions to the fundamental rights of Venezuelan citizens, and, as such, do not comply with the minimum requirements of proportionality, legality, and suitability. The Venezuelan government has systematically ignored civil society requests for information regarding the total number of blocked websites. To date, there is evidence that 41 websites have been blocked, but it is suspected that there are many more. It is not known what legal and technical processes the government applies to identify the websites to block or carry out the blocking orders.
These practices directly affect the exercise of human rights. In a joint statement, the rapporteurs for freedom of expression of the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the “censorship and blocking of information both in traditional media and on the internet.” Over the last few months, the Venezuelan government has blocked three streaming TV providers without a previous court order. Moreover, the government has used unregulated surveillance technologies that affect the fundamental rights of citizens, such as surveillance drones to track and watch demonstrators, while at the same time expanding its internet surveillance prerogatives through the creation of bodies such as Centro Estratégico de Seguridad y Protección de la Patria (CESPPA).
In addition to this, the government has implemented mechanisms for the collection of biometric data without citizens being able to determine their purpose nor who has access to such information. The official discourse towards the internet, and specifically to social networks, is disturbing: the director of the National Telecommunications Commission has recently declared that social networks are “dangerous” and a tool for “non-conventional war.”
The sum of these factors, aggravated by the passage of time and the deepening of the social and political crisis, outlines the creation of a state of censorship, control, and surveillance that gravely affects the exercise of human rights. Quality access to a free and neutral internet is recognized internationally as a necessary condition for the exercise of the freedom of expression, communication, and access to information, and as a precondition for the existence of a democratic society. In that regard, the undersigned civil society and academic organizations wish to set our position in the following terms:
- We express our condemnation of the extension of the state of emergency in Venezuela, as well as to the restrictions to the free flow of information online that derive from it.
- We manifest our concern regarding the growing deterioration of internet access infrastructure and telecommunications in Venezuela. The maintenance of such systems is of vital importance for education, innovation, and the communication of Venezuelans.
- We emphasize that the use and implementation of technological tools such as drones and biometric identification systems must meet human rights standards and not interfere with the fundamental freedoms of citizens, in particular their privacy and autonomy.
- We insist that all measures that restrict the free exercise of fundamental rights, such as the blocking of web pages, comply with the minimum requisites of proportionality, legality, and suitability, and in consequence, must be only adopted by judicial authorities following a due process.
- We request the cessation of harassing actions and insulting speech online by public servants against NGOs and human rights activists that document and denounce acts using digital platforms.
- We demand the cessation of military and police aggression against journalists and citizen reporters.
- We request transparency for the actions the government has taken to restrict internet traffic and content, and demand an answer to the requests for public information made by civil society regarding the practices of content blocking and filtering executed by the public administration.
Acceso Libre (Venezuela)
Artículo 19 (Brasil y Sudamérica)
Asuntos del Sur
Center for Media Research – Nepal
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
(DTES-ULA) Dirección de Telecomunicaciones y Servicios de la Universidad de los Andes
EXCUBITUS Derechos Humanos en Educación
Espacio Público (Venezuela)
Global Voices Advox
Index on Censorship
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders)
Observatorio de DDHH de la Universidad de los Andes
Red en defensa de los derechos digitales, R3D
Son Tus Datos (México)
Sursiendo, comunicación y cultura digital
Photo by Jonathan Alvarez C. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.