Argentina

Free
71
100
A Obstacles to Access 19 25
B Limits on Content 27 35
C Violations of User Rights 25 40
Last Year's Score & Status
71 100 Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free)

header1 Overview

Argentina’s internet environment remained free during the coverage period, as users generally experienced unfettered access to online content and were able to engage freely on social media. News outlets did not experience cyberattacks as they have in years prior and online mobilization around reproductive justice and women’s rights issues contributed to tangible legal change. However, new evidence revealed that the government had previously monitored journalists’ online activities. Furthermore, social media users faced criminal complaints and fines, particularly in response to their online comments about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Argentina is a vibrant representative democracy with competitive elections, lively media and civil society sectors, and unfettered public debate. Economic instability, corruption in the government and judiciary, and drug-related violence are among the country’s most serious challenges.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2020 - May 31, 2021

  • The government announced several initiatives to reduce the socioeconomic digital divide. An August 2020 presidential decree suspended internet service price increases through the end of the year, and a plan requiring companies to offer low-cost packages to low-income customers was launched in December 2020 (see A1 and A2).
  • Years of online mobilization around women’s rights issues contributed to Congress’s decision to legalize abortion in December 2020. The decision was seen as a direct result of protests that had been sparked by a 2015 Twitter hashtag campaign (see B8).
  • Legal proceedings and criminal complaints were lodged against online users, including journalists who commented about the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on social media. Separately, an investigative journalist was charged with attempted extortion after a judge ruled that requesting a comment from a source via WhatsApp amounted to participation in an extortion scheme (see C3).
  • During the reporting period, new evidence revealed that the government had monitored journalists’ online activities. In June 2020, intelligence services were reported to have assembled dossiers on over 400 journalists in 2017 and 2018 that included information from their social media accounts and flagged critics of former president Mauricio Macri (see C5).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 5.005 6.006

Argentina’s internet penetration rate is among the highest in Latin America, with more than 75 percent of the population able to access the internet according to 2017 data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the most recent available.1

In the first quarter of 2021, there were 7.68 million fixed internet subscriptions, a 2.8 percent increase compared to the previous year.2 There were 31.6 million mobile internet users in the first trimester of 2021, a decrease of 0.1 percent from two years prior.3

According to 2020 data from the Argentine Internet Chamber (CABASE), fiber-optic connections represent only 12.51 percent of the total fixed internet connections in the country. The chamber has promoted investment in Fiber Optic Home (FTTH) networks, which grew by 34.58 percent in the third quarter of 2020, compared to the previous year.4

Measurements of internet speed in Argentina vary, but a range of sources show that the country lags behind global averages and that speeds are slower than those in several other Latin American countries.5 In September 2020, CABASE reported an increase in internet speeds above 6 megabits per second (Mbps), representing 71 percent of total connections. Of this total, 51 percent of connections were above 20 Mbps, 9 percent between 10 and 20 Mbps, and 11 percent between 6 and 10 Mbps.6

Projects to expand internet infrastructure were implemented during the coverage period. In December 2020, a new undersea communications cable was installed in the coastal town of Las Toninas in the Province of Buenos Aires. The cable originally connected Uruguay and Brazil, but was extended to Argentina as part of the Tannat Project developed by Google and the Uruguayan telecommunications regulator, ANTEL. According to authorities, the new cable will expand international bandwidth to meet demand.7 Another 2,500 kilometers of undersea communications cable began operating in Argentina in June 2021,8 after the coverage period, as part of Project Malbec.9 The National Authority for Communications (ENACOM) had authorized service provider GlobeNet to implement the project, which was developed in collaboration with Facebook and planned to double the country’s connectivity capacity,10 in July 2020.11

Government initiatives to continue these efforts were also announced during the reporting period. In September 2020, President Alberto Fernández launched the National Plan of Connectivity (Connect), which seeks in part to expand the national satellite system to improve connectivity in rural areas and continue the expansion of the Federal Fiber Optics Network.12 The plan is set to be completed by 2024.13

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 2.002 3.003

Given high inflation rates, internet subscriptions are relatively expensive in Argentina and present a barrier for those with lower incomes. A notable geographic divide persists.

Geographic differences in internet access are substantial. Fixed internet subscriptions reach over 78 percent of households in provinces such as La Pampa, San Luis, and Córdoba, and below 37 percent in others, like San Juan, Santa Cruz, and Formosa. Nearly a third of provinces have below 50 percent internet penetration.1

Many who lack internet access live in rural areas, the impact of which was further exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A May 2020 investigation found that some of those among the 15 percent of the population that lacks internet access—mainly those in rural areas—did not learn about the COVID-19 pandemic until a month after it had reached Argentina.2

According to Cable, a UK-based company, the average price for one gigabyte (GB) of mobile data in Argentina is more expensive than in most countries in the region, at 192.8 Argentine pesos ($2.38). However, Argentina’s average monthly broadband cost of 1,579 pesos ($19.49) was the lowest in the region as of 2020.3 The Inclusive Internet Index 2021 report ranks Argentina 53rd out of 120 countries surveyed in terms of affordability, and 10th regionally, out of 20 countries surveyed.4 The Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) report, which measures policy and regulatory factors that can enable more affordable broadband, ranks Argentina 4th out of 72 countries surveyed.5

Argentina’s main service providers have raised the cost of mobile plans in recent years.6 However, the government has recently sought to curb these efforts. In August 2020, a presidential decree declared landline and mobile phone, internet, and pay TV services essential public services. The decree extended a May decision to temporarily suspend increases in rates to last through the end of the year.7 It also stipulated that increases after the end of the year must be approved by the government, though ENACOM approved some small increases in the first two months of 2021.8

Other government initiatives have also sought to promote digital inclusion. In December 2020, the government launched a Universal Basic Plan to provide telephone, internet, and pay TV services to Argentina’s low-income population by offering different low-cost packages to those who meet specific criteria. Companies are required to offer these packages under this plan, which officially began in January 2021.9

Alongside private companies, the government also undertook various temporary measures to facilitate better access to certain content and ease financial burdens on consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included providing free access to educational content,10 limits on cutting service for unpaid bills, 11 and projects to improve information and communications technology (ICT) access in underserved neighborhoods.12

Civil society organizations have used formal channels to protest providers and local governments that fail to adequately address divides in internet access. In November 2020, a group of civil society organizations sued the government of Tucumán province for not taking necessary measures to ensure internet access for children living in low-income neighborhoods and Indigenous territories.13 In February 2020, the Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ) sued Telefónica for failing to comply with a resolution ordering the company to provide information about their business operations in the poorer neighborhoods of the city of Buenos Aires;14 the company has been accused of discriminating against lower-income residents when it comes to offering telecom services.15 ACIJ again requested that necessary measures be taken to order the city government to provide internet access to children in need in June 2021.16

While Law 27.078 protects net neutrality,17 practices such as zero-rating are commonplace; for example, major mobile providers do not charge users to access WhatsApp.18 Following the 2017–2018 megamerger between Telecom and Cablevisión,19 zero-rated access offers were available to customers of Personal (mobile phone service) and Cablevisión Flow (over-the-top service) to watch the final match of the Copa Libertadores,20 this service was extended to cover other TV content and rebranded as “Flow Pass,” while making it available to Personal customers.21

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 6.006 6.006

The government does not exercise control over telecommunications infrastructure. There have been no reported instances of the government cutting off internet connectivity during protests or social unrest.

Argentina has 32 functioning internet exchange points (IXPs) strategically distributed in major cities across the country,1 which help manage internet traffic efficiently.2 In November 2020, ENACOM granted just under 870 million pesos ($8.86 million) to 17 cooperatives to develop broadband connections in localities with low levels of internet access.3

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 4.004 6.006

Argentina has one of the largest numbers of internet providers in the region.1 However, the broadband market is dominated by two companies, Grupo Clarín and Telefónica, which together represent 61 percent of the market.2 The mobile sector is similarly concentrated, under market leaders Claro (América Móvil, 37.2 percent), Personal (Telecom Argentina, 33.7 percent), and Movistar (Telefónica, 29.2 percent).3

A megamerger between Telecom Argentina and cable TV provider Cablevisión was completed by mid-2018,4 resulting in the largest telecommunications and media group in Argentina.5 Mobile service provider Personal (part of Cablevisión-Telecom), has seen an increase in its market share since the merger, boosted by an array of promotions, packages, advertising, and the largest fiber-optic network in the country.6 Competitors and experts have raised concerns about this merger’s impact on pluralism, diversity, and competition.7

On the other hand, the government and ENACOM have made decisions with potential to increase competition in recent years. A May 2020 suspension of price increases for telecommunications service applied only to services offered by select major companies, while cooperatives and small and medium-size enterprises were exempt (see A2).8 After a federal court suspended the application of a related August 2020 presidential decree—which required government approval for price increases after the freeze ended—exclusively for Telecom in April 2021, ENACOM submitted a claim to the Supreme Court requesting a reversal of the decision in June 2021. 9

A 2017 resolution has allowed the government to push for a more “flexible and objective” ICT licensing regime.10 The process to obtain an ISP license can be done online with a payment fee of 20,000 pesos ($247).11

Meanwhile, a decree issued in January 2019 authorized ENACOM to manage and auction the spectrum held by the state-run company ARSAT. Accordingly, at least 20 percent of the frequencies must go to regional and local operators.12

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 2.002 4.004

The main telecommunications regulator, ENACOM, was created by presidential decree in December 2015,1 and later validated by Congress in April 2016.2

The body’s composition has raised some concerns about possible executive influence. ENACOM operates within the public innovation secretariat, under the chief of cabinet of ministers, and has a board comprised of four directors chosen by the president and three proposed by Congress: one by the majority or first minority party, one by the second minority party, and one by the third minority party. ENACOM’s decisions can be approved by a simple majority, and its members, who serve four-year terms, may be removed by the president.3 The ICT policymaker is the secretariat of public innovation, after the newly elected government restructured4 the secretariat of modernization in December 2019.5

The executive body, the Network Information Center (NIC) Argentina, regulates and registers all websites with the “.ar” top-level domain name. Registration of any domain ending in “.ar” requires an annual fee between 270 and 540 pesos ($3.33 and $6.67).6

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 5.005 6.006

Users in Argentina have access to a wide array of online content. Nevertheless, courts have the power to order website blocks, and have done so to protect copyright and limit access to unauthorized gambling sites based on different provincial regulations.1 Law 25.690 also requires internet service providers (ISPs) to provide software that can allow users to choose to limit their own access to “specific websites.”2

Courts have made controversial decisions in recent years to try to block the mobile transportation app Uber, finding it was not in compliance with the legal framework for public transportation services.3 A 2018 court order to block the app and its website in Buenos Aires was overturned that same year,4 after a superior court ruled that such a measure disproportionately affects freedom of expression and access to information.5 Though the block on Uber’s website was implemented and lifted several times in 2018, the app remained available.6

After a similar provisional order to suspend Uber was issued in Córdoba in 2019,7 Uber stopped operating in the city.8 The company resumed operations there in December 2020,9 after the city failed to comply with an October 2020 court order that required them to enact ridesharing regulations within 30 business days.10

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 2.002 4.004

Courts continue to consider lawsuits from individuals requesting that search engines and platforms take down certain material. Judges have ordered search engines and social networks to remove content based on the right to honor and privacy, which is guaranteed under article 52 of the Civil Code and allows Argentinian citizens to prevent or repair any damage to their reputation.

In February 2020, a civil judge ruled in favor of a “right to be forgotten” case and ordered Google to delist search results of keywords referring to the actress Natalia Denegri’s involvement in a 1990s scandal. The decision noted that this content lacked “journalistic relevance” and was not in the public interest.1 In August 2020, the ruling was affirmed by the National Court of Civil Appeals.2 The pronouncement was criticized by scholars and human rights activists for the lack of a legal basis in applying the “right to be forgotten” and the potential obstacles it would erect to accessing old content.3

On the other hand, a number of courts overturned prior rulings requiring search engines to deindex information during the coverage period. In June 2020, an appeals court in La Plata reversed a prior ruling that Facebook remove the URLs of posts on a feminist group’s Facebook page that denounced a political activist as an abuser and manipulator. The appeals court ruled that the group’s speech was constitutionally protected.4 In March 2021, an appeals court reversed a decision requiring Google to remove certain links to content about a high-profile lawyer who was charged with fraud in the late 1990s. The appeals court ruling cited the public interest potential of the content, determining that public interest takes precedence over the “right to be forgotten.”5

Major political players requested that courts order Google to conduct analyses on their knowledge panels (information boxes that appear after a search to provide a brief overview of a topic) during the coverage period. These requests pave the way for demands that the search engine remove or suppress content, though this had not happened in practice by the end of the coverage period. Former president and current vice president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made one such request in August 2020 as a prior step to suing the company for defamation. She claimed that Google affected her image and honor when “Thief of the Argentine Nation” appeared in her knowledge panel in May 2020.6 Courts accepted Fernandez de Kirchner’s request,7 which Google appealed to the Supreme Court, which dismissed the appeal in March 2021 based on procedural law technicalities.8 First Lady Fabiola Yáñez submitted a similar request in November 2020, which a court accepted in January 2021; she alleged that her knowledge panel displayed derogatory and misogynist remarks about her instead of her official title.9

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 3.003 4.004

ENACOM publishes an online repository of websites that have been blocked or reinstated or both after judicial court orders.1 However, the tool does not specify the rules or criteria behind these decisions. The vast majority of website blocks concern online gambling (with over 30 cases in the first quarter of 2021), which is regulated differently in each province.

Recent court decisions have established takedown criteria to avoid potential abuse of generic injunctions to restrict freedom of expression.2 Though the country lacks a law on intermediary liability, a landmark 2014 Supreme Court ruling confirmed that intermediaries should not be liable for third-party content if they did not have knowledge of alleged third-party violations.3 It also established that intermediaries must remove unlawful content only if they are notified by a judicial order, thus favoring a judicial takedown regime over a “notice-and-takedown” system. However, the court stated that if the content involves “manifest illegality,” a private notification to the intermediary is sufficient. A recent court ruling by the Supreme Court in September 2017 reaffirmed these standards in the Gimbutas vs Google case.4

Bills proposed in 2020 raised some concerns for encouraging censorship by online platforms and services, though they had not advanced by the end of the coverage period. One proposal yet to be discussed by legislators would require social media platforms to remove fake news and hate speech in 7 days and 24 hours, respectively, after receiving a complaint from a user. Should they fail to comply, platforms could risk fines or a year-long suspension of service.5 Another proposal from July 2020 would require social media platforms to remove content that harms personal privacy, attacks free expression, or implies the commission of a crime, among other vaguely defined infringements. Platforms that fail to comply could incur penalties, including losing anywhere from 0.1 percent to 10 percent of their advertising income from the month prior to the infringement.6

A bill submitted to Congress in early 2021 could also facilitate content restriction, by enshrining the “right to be forgotten.” The proposal is based on article 16 of the 2000 data protection law, which provides the right to rectify, update, or delete personal data. The proposed law would allow people to request the delisting of specific URLs indexed by search engines if the links contained information that was harmful to them; newsworthy or public interest search results would not be eligible.7

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 3.003 4.004

Self-censorship among bloggers and internet users is not widespread in Argentina, although some isolated instances of harassment might elicit self-censorship in particular cases.

A number of developments in recent years have sparked concern for their potential to increase self-censorship among journalists and ordinary users. This includes NODIO, an observatory for online disinformation and symbolic violence, launched by the Public Defender’s Office in October 2020. NODIO would detect, verify, and counter the dissemination of malicious information. Political opposition members and media organizations warned about the potential use of this observatory for state control over and persecution of online discourse, both of which could increase self-censorship.1 Earlier, in February 2020, the Inter-American Press Association raised concerns about a bill submitted before the Senate that would limit investigative journalism related to corruption2 and could increase self-censorship among journalists working both online and offline. As of June 2021, the bill was under review by the Justice and Criminal Affairs Commission.3

Court orders to journalists may also encourage self-censorship. Journalist Daniel Santoro of Clarín, for instance, was summoned in June 2019 to reveal information about his sources and had his phone records subpoenaed as part of an investigation into alleged extortion by lawyer Marcelo D’Alessio. 4 The Argentine Forum of Journalism (FOPEA) criticized the move, expressing concern that it would hinder the ability of journalists to communicate with their sources.5 Though a court ruled that he did not have to provide information on his sources in December 2020, 6 concerns about the potential for similar cases remain.

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 3.003 4.004

There have been episodes in recent years of seemingly organized digital behavior through bots, trolls, and personal accounts connected to political campaigning.1

During the coverage period, in January 2021, Facebook reported that they removed just over 1,000 combined Facebook and Instagram accounts in December 2020 due to the inauthentic amplification of posts and articles about Sergio Berni, the minister of security for the province of Buenos Aires. According to the report, these accounts were created in Argentina and targeted domestic audiences with the intent to make content related to Berni seem more popular by liking and resharing posts from the minister’s official page.2

Past elections have been flashpoints for online manipulation and disinformation in Argentina. In the lead-up to the 2019 general elections, an exposé found that several agencies working to develop tailored social media campaigns for presidential candidates used trolls and bots to promote narratives against opponents.3 Reverso, a consortium of fact-checking and journalism organizations, found some political disinformation to have been spread over Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, though without having any major impact on online debate.4

Ahead of the 2019 election, the government, including the National Electoral Chamber (CNE), undertook a series of measures to address disinformation and other manipulation techniques on social media. These included requesting that candidates and political parties register their social media accounts and official websites with the CNE and share information about audiovisual campaign materials that they planned to disseminate online. 5 Some social media platforms also responded to civil society concerns about opaque political advertising manipulating the online sphere. Facebook, for instance, introduced changes to their political advertisement policy in the country that would identify campaign ads and include information about who had financed them.6 However, transparency in political advertising remains a point of concern for civil society.7

The election commission also investigated claims that Cambridge Analytica had worked on Macri’s 2015 presidential campaign; the firm has been accused of keeping massive data files on individuals without their permission, and other wrongdoings.8 A UK–based investigation into Cambridge Analytica's parent company, SCL Elections, noted that “confidential evidence” related to an anti-Kirchner campaign in Argentina suggested the creation of false social media accounts.9

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 2.002 3.003

State advertising is typically allocated to traditional media outlets, placing some economic constraints on digital outlets. Political allocation of official advertising plays a major role in shaping media content at both the federal and local levels.1

President Alberto Fernandez’s administration has continued a Macri-era trend of allocating funds based on positive news coverage.2 During the first 11 months of 2020, the Fernandez administration raised the expenditure on advertising by 40 percent, compared to the previous year. Clarin Group, which had benefited most from official advertising between 2016 and 2019 for their Macri-friendly coverage,3 remained the media outlet that received a majority of the funding. It was followed by the Fernández-friendly media conglomerates Indalo Group and Octubre Group.

During that time, 72 percent of state funding was allocated to traditional media, whereas only 12 percent and 6 percent was allocated to websites and social media, respectively. Funding is also heavily concentrated in the capital, with 74 percent of the spending directed at media based in Buenos Aires.4

In April 2019, the Senate approved a new law regulating the financing of political campaigns.5 It notably mandates that 60 percent of public resources for political party digital advertising be allocated to digital news sites that generate content, 35 percent to outlets providing national coverage, and 25 percent to provincial outlets focusing on local content. This responds to media associations’ demands to compensate for losses due to the migration of advertising to search engines and social networks.6

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 3.003 4.004

Argentina has an open and diverse online media environment, as well as high rates of social media use that allow people to access and produce different content. A February 2021 report found that just under 80 percent of the population use social media in Argentina.1 The digital ecosystem is populated with initiatives and content that reflect the interests of different groups, including Indigenous groups,2 LGBT+ people,3 feminists,4 and various religious congregations.5

However, media ownership in Argentina is highly concentrated, which may in turn affect the diversity of news in the market (see B6).6 In 2021, it was reported that four of the ten most popular websites belonged to Clarín Group.7

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 6.006 6.006

Argentineans continue to use social media as a tool for political mobilization. Digital activism has played a crucial role in rallying protests and ushering in legislative change in recent years, especially for women’s rights.

The legalization of abortion in December 2020 was widely seen as the result of five years of protests that began with the Twitter hashtag campaign, #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less).1 The hashtag initially went viral on social media in June 2015,2 and continued to be one of the most tweeted hashtags during subsequent years.3 In February 2020, thousands filled the streets of Buenos Aires in support of the decriminalization of abortion. In-person protests were accompanied by mobilization on social media; hashtags used included #19F (referring to the proposed bill), #Pañuelazo (referring to a green handkerchief, a symbol of the campaign), and #AbortoLegal2020 (#LegalAbortion2020).4

Social media continued to play a key role in facilitating discussion during the legislative debate around the legalization of abortion in December 2020. Hashtags supporting the right to abortion, such as #AbortoLegal2020 (#LegalAbortion2020), #SeraLey (#ItWillBeLaw), and #QueSeaLey (#LetItBeLaw)—as well as hashtags opposing abortion—like #ProVida (#ProLife), #SalvemosLasDosVidas (#LetsSaveTheTwoLives), and #LaMayoríaCeleste (#TheSkyBlueMayority), were all trending topics during the legislative session. The sessions, which were livestreamed online, were watched by a record audience of more than 48,000 people.5

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 4.004 6.006

Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution,1 as well as through Argentina’s ratification of regional and international human rights treaties that share constitutional status.2 Argentina also explicitly established online freedom of expression protections through a presidential decree issued in 1997.3 These were expanded by Congress in 2005 to include “the search, reception, and dissemination of ideas and information of all kinds via internet services.”4 Defamatory statements regarding matters of public interest were decriminalized in 2009.5 A national freedom of information law came into force in 2016.6

Argentina’s judicial system has long been plagued by inefficiencies and accusations of politicization. In 2019, civil rights groups denounced a decision to investigate a federal judge who was looking into allegations of illegal surveillance operations and extortion, with potential links to government allies.7 Meanwhile, press freedom groups expressed alarm when several journalists were named in the judge’s investigation, decrying a judicial attempt to “criminalize interviews and professional secrecy.”8

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2.002 4.004

Some laws impose criminal and civil liability for online activities. Law 11.723 holds liable those who reproduce content that violates intellectual property by any means, and establishes sanctions ranging from fines to six years in prison. In November 2013, Congress approved a law amending the penal code and establishing penalties of up to four years imprisonment for online contact with a minor carried out “with the purpose of committing a crime against [the minor’s] sexual integrity.”1 The proposal had sparked criticism among academics and legislators due to vague wording that would have criminalized any online interaction with minors, issuing the same sentence that is mandated for cases of abuse.2

A 2008 cybercrime law amended the Argentine Criminal Code to prohibit distribution and possession of child abuse images online, interception of communications and informatics systems, hacking, and electronic fraud. Some of the terms used in the legislation have been criticized as ambiguous, which could lead to overly broad interpretation.3

Other bills that could be used to punish certain forms of online speech due to broad wording were still under review at the end of the coverage period. Legislative initiatives that emerged in 2018 propose to reform the criminal code to penalize identity theft online, with one proposing prison sentences of up to four years for sustained activity.4 One bill to reform the criminal code submitted to Congress in 2019 would criminalize the dissemination of nonconsensual intimate images, providing prison sentences ranging from six months to two years, or a fine.5 Another submitted to Congress that year sought to include the usurpation of digital identity as a crime in the criminal code, establishing prisons sentence ranging from one month to two years. The bill did not clearly define the crime, providing only a broad statement of the usurpation of any identity exercised in a digital format.6 Other bills proposed new provisions for the criminal code in order to criminalize “cyberbullying”7 and stalking.8

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 4.004 6.006

Internet users do not generally face politically motivated arrests or prosecutions for online speech. However, journalists have been charged for their digital activities; users have been fined or investigated for social media comments; and social media monitoring has led to investigations being launched against online users.

Journalists and online personalities sometimes face charges and proceedings in relation to their digital activities, though charges tend to ultimately be dropped. Daniel Santoro, an investigative journalist for national newspaper Clarín, was charged with attempted extortion in April 2021 based on a judge’s claims that Santoro, who had requested comment on an article via a WhatsApp message, was a “necessary participant” in a broader extortion scheme. If found guilty, he would have faced up to 5 years in prison.1 A federal court ultimately revoked the decision in June 2021 citing a lack of evidence.2

In September 2020, libertarian journalist and YouTuber Eduardo Prestofelippe (known as El Presto) was arrested during a police raid on his home after he allegedly tweeted death threats to Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.3 The tweets stated that Kirchner would not get out of potential civil unrest in Argentina alive and threatened that she had “little time left." El Presto was prosecuted after a criminal complaint by Fernandez de Kirchner's personal lawyer.4 He was released a few days after his arrest and the charges against him were dismissed by a federal justice in December 2020, who ruled that the tweet was protected under freedom of expression standards.5

Criminal complaints were also wielded against journalists posting about the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook during the coverage period. In January 2021, the municipality of Quilmes filed a criminal complaint against Roberto Carrigall, an anchor and reporter for Del Bosque Radio who also reports via his Facebook account. The municipality argued that a Facebook post made days early by Carigall, which alleged that a municipal government-run hospital was improperly refrigerated and consequently damaged 40 COVID-19 vaccine doses, violated articles 205 and 211 of the penal code. He faces up to six years in prison if charged.6 There were no further developments as of the end of the coverage period.

Fines and threats of legal action were also used against reporters for pandemic-related Facebook content. In June 2020, journalist Ariel Barrios was fined 40,000 pesos ($494) for spreading allegedly false information about the pandemic on Facebook under a municipal ordinance that imposed fines for disseminating false coronavirus-related content online.7 The fine against her was reversed after the city council repealed the ordinance later that month.8 Also in June 2020, a judge in Chaco province sent the national gendarmerie to the home of journalist Gustavo Raúl Romero.9 Romero was accused of spreading false information about COVID-19 on Facebook, and the warning issued by the gendarmerie stated that, if he continued, he would face a criminal trial under article 211 of the criminal code. According to the Argentine Forum of Journalism (FOPEA), Romero had posted information about new COVID-19 cases that were officially confirmed afterwards.10

Investigations into online users identified through government social media monitoring have occurred in the past. Cybersecurity expert and critic of electronic voting Javier Smaldone reported being wrongfully investigated after tweeting about an August 2019 hacking against the Ministry of Security.11 Based on these tweets, which had been identified through social media monitoring, police raided his home, seized his electronic devices, and detained him for six hours in October 2019.12 Smaldone appealed the seizure of his devices,13 and revealed in January 2021 that some had been returned to him, though others remained in the hands of authorities.14

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 2.002 4.004

The Argentine government does not impose restrictions on anonymity or encryption for internet users, but registration requirements are in place for obtaining a mobile phone or a domain name (see A5). Bloggers and internet users are not required to register with the government and can post anonymous comments freely in online forums.

Telecom operators must register users’ identification information before selling them mobile phones or prepaid SIM cards.1 A resolution signed in October 2016 established a database of personal information, requiring ENACOM to adopt measures to identify all mobile communications users in a national registry.2 Mobile service providers must store the information in a safe and auditable manner, and supply information on request to members of the judiciary or public prosecutors. The resolution does not state how long the information must be stored. Civil society groups criticized the policy for undermining anonymity and freedom of expression, citing other countries as examples where the same policy had been lifted because of its uselessness in deterring crime.3

In July 2016, the National Directorate for the Registry of Internet Domain Names launched a new regulation for the administration of domain names.4 In order to register, transfer, or cancel a domain, individuals must apply for a “tax password” (Clave Fiscal) by providing the Federal Administration of Public Revenues (AFIP) with fingerprints, a facial photo, and their signature. AFIP assured local media that “it will not have information on the administration of domains and the Network Information Center (NIC) Argentina will not have tax information either. The processes are independent.”5

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because of new evidence that found that agents from the Federal Intelligence Agency monitored the online activities of and created dossiers on over 400 journalists ahead of international summits in 2017 and 2018.

In general, Argentina has strong privacy standards rooted in the constitution. Though covert or unlawful surveillance does not seem to be widespread, some sectors have attempted to spy on internet users. Security services engage in monitoring of journalists’ online activities.

Government agencies do not systematically collect or access internet users’ metadata directly, but they may request it from service providers with a warrant,1 which has been upheld by the judiciary regarding information like geolocation data.2 Interception of private communications requires judicial authorization.3 In May 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy recommended the creation of a new independent oversight body for state surveillance.4 It had yet to be established by the end of the coverage period.

The Ministry of Security has consistently recommended that federal police engage in “cyberpatrolling” since 2017, when the email and Twitter account of the minister at the time were hacked.5 This practice involves a proactive approach to identifying illicit activities online, mainly by searching social media platforms and monitoring results.6 Rights experts stated that social media monitoring operations by national law enforcement agencies have been carried out without appropriate transparency measures or safeguards, citing concerns for privacy rights and freedom of expression.7

In May 2020, the ministry published a protocol through Resolution 144/2020 that outlined general principles and guidelines for authorities engaging in “cyberpatrolling.”8 It incorporated some civil society recommendations to mitigate the use of “cyberpatrolling” to criminalize legitimate behavior and speech online, but ignored calls for a legislative debate.9 The Access to Public Information Agency (AAIP) reviewed the protocol and in July 2020 concluded that it didn't comply with the national data protection law, suggesting it be suspended or changed to comply with the right to privacy.10 As of June 2021, there were no public updates as to whether the government had accepted the recommendations or suspended the protocol.

Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency has been found to excessively monitor journalists in recent years. In June 2020, prosecutor Cristina Caamaño presented findings of an audit of the agency to the Eleventh Federal Criminal and Correctional Court that revealed that agents had monitored and stored personal information of over 400 journalists seeking to cover major international summits held in Buenos Aires in 2017 and 2018. Agents had assembled detailed profiles of individuals who requested accreditation to cover the event, which included photos, employer names, and social media profiles and posts, as well as comments about their political ideology or opinions. Those deemed critical of Macri, who was president at the time, were noted as having a “critical political posture.”11

In a separate case, a judge at the Federal Court of Lomas de Zamora presented evidence in June 2020 that the Federal Intelligence Agency had been engaging in illegal offline surveillance of journalist Hugo Alconada Mon between March and November 2018. Alconada had been investigating corruption at the time and had recently reported that the former head of the Federal Intelligence Agency was being investigated by police in connection to the scandal.12

Citizens’ personal information contained in the databases of the social security authority (ANSES) are authorized to be transferred to the Public Communication Secretariat. 13 A court ruled in 2018, however, that ANSES could not share a woman’s phone number and email address with the secretariat without the woman’s consent.14

Under Macri’s government, the Supreme Court established an Office of Capturing of Communications (OCC) in charge of interceptions of communications.15 Digital rights groups raised concerns about the office’s lack of institutional autonomy, especially as it is housed within a directorate dedicated to criminal investigations.16

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 4.004 6.006

A number of measures to protect Argentine users’ data and communications are in place, and the courts have upheld rulings that protect privacy. However, there are some mechanisms by which service providers and companies can be compelled to provide user information under certain circumstances.

In 2009, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that 2003 data retention legislation represented a violation of privacy rights.1

A 2013 resolution by the Communications Secretariat of the Ministry of Federal Planning introduced data retention requirements for the purpose of assessing the quality of services, requiring providers to store data related to quality indicators for three years. It states that providers should guarantee the telecommunications regulator “free access” to installations, and should provide “all the information that is required in the set manner and timeframe.”2 There has been no evidence to suggest that this provision was implemented in an unlawful or abusive way.

The Criminal Procedure Code states that, if a judge orders them to do so, communication service providers must be able to immediately intercept data for a period of up to 30 days, with the possibility of an extension. Providers are held criminally liable in cases of noncompliance.3 Companies can be sanctioned for not complying with a provision under the Argentina Digital Act (Law 27.078), which mandates ICT providers share information with competent authorities when requested.4

Some data protection measures are in place. The AAIP has issued legal requirements and privacy recommendations on a range of issues in the past, including video surveillance footage,5 the development of digital applications,6 use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones,7 guidelines and best practices to comply with the data protection law,8 and, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, health and geolocation data.9

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 4.004 5.005

Violence in reprisal for digital activities is rare, though journalists and activists, including those who work online, are subject to intimidation, harassment, and smear campaigns on social media. The Argentina Forum of Journalism (FOPEA) reported 82 cases of harassment against journalists in 2020, compared to 58 in 2019. More than half of the total cases reported involved physical, psychological, or material harassment, while several others involved state abuse of power.1

One rare instance of mass physical intimidation of journalists occurred during the coverage period. On March 23, 2021, a group of about 100 individuals stormed the offices of print and online daily newspaper, Rio Negro. The attackers, many of whom seemed to be members of the national trade union CTA Autónoma, destroyed property, poured alcohol and paint on a receptionist, punched a photojournalist, and threatened to kill journalist Luis Leiva. A local judge had filed sexual assault and harassment charges against one of CTA Autónoma’s leaders, Miguel Báez, just minutes beforehand. The attack was seen as an attempt to quash any further investigative reporting into Báez, whose case Leiva had been covering since April 2020.2

Online gender-based violence poses a prominent threat to female users. Amnesty International reported in 2019 that one in three women in Argentina had suffered violence on social media, nearly 60 percent of whom reported receiving sexual or misogynistic comments.3 Female political candidates are especially targeted, including with online smear campaigns.4 A study on social media violence against women and political dissidents during the 2019 electoral campaign, conducted by Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género (ELA), reported that 5 percent of tweets interacting with female candidates’ official Twitter accounts included harassment or misogynistic content.5

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 2.002 3.003

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because there were no cyberattacks against online media outlets during the coverage period, though private companies continued to be targeted.

Government entities and commercial enterprises are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks, with multiple major examples occurring during the coverage period.

One such attack against the country’s immigration agency halted border crossings for four hours in August 2020, after the entity’s information technology team detected the breach and shut down the central server as a precautionary move. Netwalker, the group behind the attack, initially demanded a ransom of $2 million in Bitcoin for the decryption key, which they increased to almost $4 million in Bitcoin after seven days without word from government officials.1 The government did not comply with the ransom request and criminal intelligence information was subsequently leaked online.2

Telecom Argentina, one of the nation’s top ISPs, was the target of another major ransomware attack on July 18, 2020. Hackers demanded almost US$7.5 million in Monero cryptocurrency in exchange for unlocking the nearly 18,000 workstations that they had encrypted using stolen credentials. Telecom reported shortly thereafter that they had regained access without agreeing to the hackers’ demands and that critical services had not been affected.3

Commercial entities and utility providers also faced ransomware attacks during the coverage period. In November 2020, multinational retail company Cencosud fell victim when hackers used Egregor, a ransomware technology, to impact operations in Argentina and Chile by encrypting devices throughout Cencosud’s retail outlets. Cencosud refused to pay the undisclosed amount requested by hackers. Compromised customer information on commercial transactions was subsequently leaked.4 In June 2020, electric company Edesur suffered technical issues as a result of a ransomware attack against its managing company, the Italian firm Enel Group. Edsel’s internal services were restored the following day.5

Digital media outlets have been victims of technical attacks in the past.6 After the first presidential debate in October 2019, Chequeado, which conducts live fact-checking during debates, disclosed an alleged denial-of-service (DoS) attack after their website received over 39 million server requests coming from abroad during a 6-hour time frame before and during the debate.7

Individuals have also been targets of cyberattacks. In June 2021, after the coverage period, the Twitter account of National Deputy Mario Negri was hacked. Hackers tweeted violent and racist content, as well as insults to politicians from the account.8

Government agencies have sought to strengthen their cybersecurity capacity. The country’s first National Cybersecurity Strategy was launched in May 2019.9 Experts stated that this was a welcomed first step, but the strategy arrived late and covered only very basic ground, like general guiding principles and goals.10 In February 2021, the National Cybersecurity Directorate set up the National Computer Security Incident Response Team; it will mainly coordinate the handling of cybersecurity incidents in the national administration and assist in the case of attacks to critical information infrastructure.11

On Argentina

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  • Global Freedom Score

    84 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    71 100 free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    No