Reports from Cuba: The muzzle that is Cuba’s latest cyberspace law

By Irina Echarry in Havana Times:

The Muzzle that is Cuba’s Latest Cyberspace Law

On August 17th, Decree-Law No. 35 on Telecommunications, Information and Communications Technolologies, and the Use of the Radioelectric Spectrum was published in the Cuba’s Official Gazette.   

Passed by the National Assembly in April, this new law once again attacks one of the government’s most famous “enemies”: the Internet. From now onwards, the State has another legal instrument to further censor and control posts in cyberspace. I say another one because the government published Decree-Law 370 last year, and it’s still in force.

Social media has become a real headache for the Cuban government in recent years. A wide array of user profiles denounce, criticize and ridicule the ruling class, especially for their distance from the country’s reality and their failed policies. 

This new decree-law criminalizes the spread of fake news, and the publication of offensive messages or slander that attacks “national prestige”. A friend tells me that what could be understood as slander remains unclear, or if it can be considered fake news and what the “prestige” they talk of is, but she says that every country must have a legal framework for Internet use.

With this very ambiguity, and war-like language that has become normal of the State, the decree-law outlines cases of cyber-security with high danger levels that can be classified as cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare and social subversion, which includes “attempting to subvert public order and encouraging social indiscipline.”

I told my friend that if we read it properly, nothing needs clearing up. The first of a long list of Decree-Law 35’s objectives is to “Contribute to using telecommunications services as an instrument to defend the Revolution.” It’s no surprise that everything else is focused around this objective. It’s no coincidence that something hasn’t been explained in enough detail.  On the other hand, it could be used as a way to prosecute some cyber “criminals”, whose “crime” still hasn’t been classified.  

The Internet has been crucial for independent journalism which sometimes makes mistakes, as it is run by humans, but it is fundamental to help us learn and understand what kind of country we are living in.

Independent journalists have always been on the government’s radar, who they say are “on the Empire’s payroll” and those who aren’t; they make the State uncomfortable just because they cover what the official press can’t.

With this decree-law, the State is also trying to silence Cubans who have found in social media a platform where they can develop their civic and political activism. This is what they are thinking about when they try “to stop telecommunications/ICT services being used to attack National Security and Public Order.”

Life has changed after 11J, even though the country is carrying on with its activities, there are some people who are resisting and don’t want everything to carry on as normal. Social media was where we were able to learn the magnitude of what had happened as a result of the protests: arrests, disappearances, summary hearings, all of the arbitrary actions against people who took to the street shouting for freedom.

The Decree-law includes clear sanctions, including: “in coordination with the corresponding authorities, the suspension of the Internet service or ending users’ contracts, who have used these contracted services”… to do what the government doesn’t like. This is what happened on 11J when ETECSA left the country without mobile data services, on government orders.

There was no respect for users who had paid for quite an expensive service, the most important thing was to try and stop people from watching videos of the protests that had broken out in many places, from organizing and to do the same in cities.

I share the idea of stopping people who try to “carry out actions or transmit information that is offensive or harmful to human dignity; or discriminatory content; that leads to harassment; that affects a person’s or family’s intimacy; a person’s identity, wellbeing and honor; collective security and overall wellbeing.”  This would be great if there wasn’t a perfectly outlined objective at the beginning, let me repeat it again: “Contribute to using telecommunications services as an instrument to defend the Revolution.”

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