Costa Rica

A Obstacles to Access 20 25
B Limits on Content 33 35
C Violations of User Rights 34 40
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Costa Rica has one of the world’s most open online environments. Internet access is generally robust, though socioeconomic and geographic divides persist. While users enjoy unfettered access to online content and their rights to free expression are largely protected, certain constituencies face online intimidation and harassment.

More generally, Costa Rica has a long history of democratic stability, with a multiparty political system and regular rotations of power through credible elections. Freedoms of expression and association are robust. The rule of law is strong, though presidents have often been implicated in corruption scandals, and prisons remain overcrowded. Among other ongoing concerns, the LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community and Indigenous people face discrimination, and land disputes involving Indigenous communities persist.

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

  • During the coverage period, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare Costa Rica’s digital divide, leading to criticism over the National Telecommunications Fund’s failure to provide universal access more than a decade after it was established (see A2).
  • In June, the Constitutional Court ruled that an order requiring a newspaper to remove a photograph from its website was detrimental to freedom of information (see B2).
  • An investigation into whether users’ privacy rights were violated by a presidential unit able to access confidential information from public institutions was ongoing during the coverage period (see C5).
  • False and misleading information scapegoating Nicaraguan migrants for the COVID-19 pandemic circulated during the coverage period (see C7).

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? 4.004 6.006

Internet access in Costa Rica has been steadily increasing. As of January 2021, internet penetration had reached 81.2 percent, up from 11 percent the previous year.1 During the same period, there were 8.93 million mobile connections in the country, equivalent to 174.4 percent of the total population and a 4.5 percent increase from January 2020.2 Of these connections, 76 percent stood between third-generation (3G) and fifth-generation (5G) technology for mobile networks. 3G access is available in 95 percent of the country.3

According to the most recently available data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2019 86.3 out of every 100 households had internet access at home, and 92.4 out of every 100 inhabitants had active mobile-broadband subscriptions.

According to Speedtest Global Index, the download speed of fixed broadband in June 2021, after the coverage period, was 51.04 megabits per second (Mbps) and 12.32 for upload. The same period showed the download speed of mobile connections at 33.15 Mbps and upload at 10.15 Mbps.4

According to the 2020 Mobile Connectivity Index, an annual index published by the GSM Association (GSMA) and made up of four subindicators relating to infrastructure, affordability, the consumer, and content and services, Costa Rica performs slightly better than the Latin America and Caribbean region, with a score of 63.3 out of a possible 100 points. Its infrastructure, referring to the availability of high-performance mobile internet network coverage, was rated at 56.7, slightly lower than the regional average of 60.76.5

In a February 2021 report, Costa Rica's Superintendency of Telecommunications (SUTEL) said the country's total fiber-optic infrastructure had expanded by 146.1 percent between June 2019 and June 2020, from roughly 78,400 kilometers to 193,000 kilometers (48,715 miles to 120,000 miles), and up from 68,200 kilometers (42,300 miles) in June 2018. Federico Chacón, president of SUTEL's board, attributed companies’ fiber-optic expansion to higher demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.6

The public sector has also attempted to increase coverage. For example, in August 2020 kölbi, owned by the state-owned Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) telecommunications company, announced the expansion of its 4G network. Nearly 200 new cell sites were established in communities outside the capital with 3G and 4G available across almost the entire country.7 Other operators have advanced their implementation of 4G; for example, Movistar announced that it would convert to 4G LTE by the end of 2021.8 Since 2018, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT) has incorporated 5G goals into its 2019–22 National Development and Public Investment Plan.9

While the country's connectivity infrastructure is generally efficient, several phenomena can affect infrastructure and connectivity. These include a rainy season from May to November, which brings flooding risks; and seismic movements, as the country is located in a subduction zone where three major tectonic plates interact.10 Hurricanes also bring flooding and can otherwise damage infrastructure.11

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

While Costa Rica has recognized internet access as a fundamental right since 2010, disparities persist. Barriers are in part geographic, with access costing more in rural areas than in urban ones relative to income.1 Low-cost carriers also offer slower service. The government has several active initiatives to expand access, but the National Telecommunications Fund (FONATEL), which spearheads many of them, has faced occasional criticism for aspects of its operations.

As of March 2021, 1 GB of mobile service cost on average 1,444.44 Costa Rican colones ($2.36) per month—among the most affordable in low- and middle- income countries in the Americas.2 The cheapest price for 1GB of mobile service was 980 colones ($1.60), while the most expensive cost 1,800 colones ($2.94).3 The average monthly income per household is 891,934 colones ($1,440),4 though there is a disparity between urban and rural areas: the average monthly household income in urban areas is 1,431,291 colones ($2,310), while in rural areas it is 283,552 colones ($458). Cheaper prepaid plans, constituting 66.6 percent of mobile plans, are conditioned with restrictions like lower network performance.5

SUTEL publishes tariff rates, which correspond to the maximum rates that can be charged for telecommunication services. 1 GB of prepaid mobile internet is 8,160.43 colones ($13.17); postpaid mobile internet with 128/64 kbps bandwidth is $15 monthly.6

In contrast to mobile service, the average monthly cost of fixed-line broadband is higher than many other Latin American countries, at $42.43 per month in 2021.7

Costa Rica has local and regional internet providers, which in many cases are rural electrification cooperatives, such as Coopelesca in the northern region and Coopeguanacaste in the Chorotega region. This model has diversified and democratized access to fixed internet at home from territories outside the central valley.8 FONATEL, which is administered by SUTEL, promotes universal access, aiming to expand coverage to areas and communities that lack service. FONATEL provides free internet services to Basic Integrated Health Care Teams (EBAIS), intelligent community centers (CECI), schools, and public colleges.9 FONATEL also provides connectivity for various vulnerable populations, with efforts funded by concessions from telecommunications companies.10

Costa Rica has made proactive and successful efforts to reduce a gendered digital divide, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet. For example, women's access is included in the National Telecommunications Development Plan 2015–21, which among other initiatives subsidizes internet connection for women entrepreneurs.11

FONATEL’s Connected Public Spaces is another initiative to reduce the digital divide. The program seeks to bring free, high-speed internet to public spaces throughout the country, including parks, squares, public libraries, train stations, and civic centers. This is a long-term program, with a comprehensive sustainability model that includes the development of telecommunications infrastructure (broadband), and promoting digital literacy.12 As of March 2021, 2,175 kilometers of fiber optic cable have connected 417 parks and squares, 61 public libraries, 28 train stations, and seven civic centers.13 However, in June 2020 FONATEL faced criticism after it emerged that some of the funds earmarked for expanding access would be used to make up for deficits generated by the telecommunications sector. The minister of science, technology and telecommunications, Luis Adrian Salazar, resigned in protest of the plan.14

Some local analysts questioned FONATEL’s competency amid the COVID-19 pandemic, asking why despite having set aside funding for expanded access, some plans still lagged behind amid a crisis that resulted in increased demand for online services.15

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

There are no government-imposed connectivity restrictions in Costa Rica.1

Three fiber-optic submarine cables connect the country to the global network. Since April 2014, Costa Rica has had an internet exchange point (IXP) called CRIX, operated by the Network Information Center Costa Rica (NIC-CR). The body is an independent department of the National Academy of Sciences that has been declared a project of public interest by the government through the MICITT.2

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

Until 2008 ICE held a state monopoly on telecommunications, but Costa Rica has since encouraged private investment.1 The National Telecommunications Development Plan 2015–21 outlines the current policy for the sector, while SUTEL promotes competition and seeks to ensure that operators and providers can compete without major barriers or market manipulation or discrimination.2

According to SUTEL, ICE captured just over half of all mobile subscribers in 2019, under kölbi. Telefónica Movistar had around 30 percent of users, followed by Claro de América Móvil at about 19 percent. ICE also led the market share for fixed internet in 2019, with 33.5 percent. Cabletica had 21.8 percent, Millicom and Telecable Económico had around 19 percent each, and others made up the remaining share.3 In August 2020, the regional telecommunications company Liberty Latin America (LLA) acquired Telefónica Costa Rica (Movistar) for $500 million.4 . In May 2021, SUTEL approved the purchase by Cabletica, through LLA, its parent company, of 100 percent of Telefónica Costa Rica’s operations.5

There are a number of requirements to establish and operate telecom services. All applications for frequency use must be submitted to the MICITT. Frequency concessions for public telecommunications network operations are determined in public contest procedures.6

SUTEL has clearly defined procedures, established in article 63 of Law No. 8642, for setting the fees telecommunication companies must pay for use of the radioelectric spectrum.7

According to the Regulations to the General Telecommunications Law No. 34765-MINAE, article 77 establishes the rights of way and shared use of physical infrastructure, whereby the public telecommunications infrastructure, which is the responsibility of ICE, should be shared with private operators.8

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? 4.004 4.004

Regulatory bodies are generally independent. The MICITT is composed of the Vice-Ministry of Science and Technology, focusing on promoting research, the use of digital technologies, and the application of innovation in processes between the academic, governmental, and business sectors; and the Vice-Ministry of Telecommunications, responsible for proposing telecommunications policies and the country's digital agenda. The Vice-Ministry of Telecommunications also manages the use of the radio spectrum and coordinates the preparation of the National Telecommunications Development Plan. The telecommunications vice-ministry works on this with other public institutions, SUTEL, and public and private operators.1

SUTEL is responsible for regulating, supervising, enforcing, and controlling the telecommunications regulatory framework, and supports the MICITT by proposing policy development. It also administers FONATEL—the fund tasked with expanding internet access—and ensures that network operators and telecommunications service providers comply with universal access and service obligations. It is further responsible for imposing sanctions for anticompetitive practices, but such actions also require affirmative opinions from the Commission for the Promotion of Competition (COPROCOM), which reports to the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce, at the start of the assessment process and again before sanctions are issued.2

The MICITT, though, can separate itself from SUTEL’s technical criteria; for example, it declined to accept a 2014 spectrum concentration measurement proposed by SUTEL.3 Thus, there is room to consolidate SUTEL’s independent and technical role.

Costa Rican authorities support a multistakeholder internet governance model. Proposed policies, as well as aspects of policy implementation, are discussed with private and public stakeholders and in public consultation processes that civil society groups participate in.4 Economic and social benefits are key goals in the National Telecommunications Development Plan 2015–21, and digital economy policies emphasize the constitutional right to freedom of expression.5

Although telecommunications regulatory bodies in Costa Rica are generally autonomous, stakeholders have expressed concern over “revolving-door” politics in which former senior government officials have participated in government forums as representatives of private businesses.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? 6.006 6.006

There are no reports of the government or other actors blocking or filtering online content. In recent years, taxi drivers have pressured the government to block the transportation mobile applications Uber, DiDi, and inDriver, but have not been successful, in part because there is no regulation authorizing such action in Costa Rican law.1

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? 3.003 4.004

The state does not intervene to remove content, except when ordered by a court or under exceptional conditions, such as to remove child sexual abuse images. Costa Rican regulations limit the liability of service providers.1

In recent years, the legal protection of personal data, particularly the right to be forgotten, has forced some outlets to remove content from their digital platforms. The Data Protection Agency (PRODHAB)’s powers to order the removal of content in the media, though, has been ruled unconstitutional. In June 2020, the Constitutional Court struck down a 2015 resolution by PRODHAB ordering the newspaper Diario Extra to remove a photograph depicting the passport of someone who accused the border police of abuses. The court said the ruling was detrimental to freedom of information, as the photograph was in the public interest, and that the individual’s consent was not required. The Court reasoned that PRODHAB cannot use its power to enforce the Law for the Protection of the Person against the Processing of Personal Data, because this would be indirect state censorship.2

Between July and December 2020, Facebook restricted 144 posts. Most were connected to consumer policy, at the request of the Ministry of Health, but a dozen restrictions were linked to an order from the Brazilian Supreme Court to restrict global access to content related to supporters of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro.3 Twitter reported no removal requests during the same period.4

Six percent of media outlets surveyed by the University of Costa Rica’s Program for Freedom of Expression, Right to Information and Public Opinion (PROLEDI) and the Research Center in Communication (CICOM) for their 2020 freedom of expression report said that they had removed comments critical of media and political figures.5

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? 4.004 4.004

Content restrictions are derived from specific laws protecting the right to honor, privacy, and the protection of personal data, as well as the protection of minors. The 2011 Law on the Protection of Children and Adolescents from Harmful Content on the Internet, for example, limits the access of this population to content considered harmful to their moral or psychological integrity. Content can only be removed by court order.

In line with the Dominican Republic–Central America–United States Free Trade Agreement, Costa Rica has established an intermediary liability system for copyright infringement. Users who believe their rights have been violated should communicate, in writing, to the service provider, which has 15 days to take down the content if the request is legitimate. Takedowns can also occur through a judicial order. The system is relatively balanced, as it aims to limit the burden placed on service providers and mitigate harms against rights holders. However, it has also been criticized for ambiguity, as the limited intermediary liability applies to service providers who voluntarily abide by the rules. 1

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice has ruled that public entities who communicate using institutional accounts on social media cannot block other users who direct criticism to those accounts.2 The Constitutional Court ruled that in an open and democratic society, freedom of expression includes criticism of the conduct or operation of public bodies.

Regarding technical blocking, the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents from Harmful Content on the Internet obliges service providers to apply filters for certain harmful content, such as child sexual abuse images. 3

  • 1“Responsablidad de intermediarios por infracciones a los derechos de autor en Chile, Paraguay y Costa Rica: Un análisis desde la libertad de expression [Intermediary liability for copyright infringement in Chile, Paraguay and Costa Rica: An analysis based on the right to freedom of speech],” Revista Chilena de Derecho y Tecnologia, 2016,
  • 2En varias sentencias relevantes, entre otras las Nos. 16882-2012, 5803-2013 y 1988-2015 la Sala Constitucional se ha manifestado sobre el ejercicio de la libertad de expresión en Internet. En estos recursos de amparo el órgano jurisdiccional conoce del bloqueo a los amparados de las cuentas institucionales de Twitter por parte de la Presidencia de la República y de Facebook, por parte de la Municipalidad de Talamanca y de la Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Para la Sala el espacio digital. One of the cases might be here:
  • 3Cooperativa Sulá Batsú, “Examinando los Derechos y las libertades en Internet en Latinoamérica (EXLILA): Informe nacional Costa Rica,” Asociación para el Progreso de las Comunicaciones (APC), 2016,…
B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 4.004 4.004

Self-censorship online is not widespread. However, almost 30 percent of the journalists consulted for a 2020 freedom of expression report by PROLEDI and CICOM stated that they had self-censored during the last year for fear of punishment, harassment, or attacks. When asked from which sectors these threats come from, several said political groups. The questionnaire was given to 161 media outlets, 18 of them digital.1

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

The government does not control or manipulate online information sources.1 However, a January 2021 report by the University of Oxford and Oxford Internet Institute Programme on Democracy & Technology found that the 2018 election featured “cyber troops” who used social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to disseminate false or misleading information about topics like corruption, government initiatives, immigration, and abortion. Figures linked to the religious National Restoration Party (PRN), including its presidential candidate, spread six misleading polls before the run-off with millions of cell phone users, whose information was gathered illegally. Such campaigns continued after the election; one connected to the religious New Republic party falsely stated that the government was raising the VAT tax. Such distorted information is not typically spread through automated accounts.

In response, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) has aimed to improve digital literacy and communication, while the University of Costa Rica established a fact-checking initiative called Double Check.2

  • 1In exercising the freedom to inform, journalists and representatives from the media and communication sectors have sought, on many occasions, protections for the right of access to public information by appealing to the Constitutional Chamber. A large number of votes contribute to the development of the legal nature, scope, and guarantees for access to public information, in addition to broadening the conditions for the democratic exercise of freedom of the press. The Constitutional Court has also tackled, among other issues, access to open data, legislative information, registration of the actions of police forces, and the right of access to public information in the context of the health emergency.
  • 2University of Oxford and Oxford Internet Institute Programme on Democracy & Technology, “Global Cyber Troops Country Profile: Costa Rica,” January 2021,….
B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 3.003 3.003

There are few economic, regulatory, or other constraints to users’ ability to express themselves or share information online. However, a 2018 PROLEDI and CICOM report found that journalists who see limits to diversity and pluralism online raise as problems the use of state advertising, financial sustainability, and the absence of public policies to promote pluralism and diversity (see B7).1 Many media outlets rely heavily on advertising to operate, with most supported by commercial advertising (78 percent), followed by state advertising (43 percent), and small donations or crowdfunding (16 percent). High concentration has also led to a small group of outlets, largely television and radio, receiving most state advertising.2

Costa Rica has not yet developed rules and regulations directly addressing net neutrality, but authorities have indicated support for the principle. The Law for the Strengthening and Modernization of Government Institutions in the Telecommunications Sector (Law No. 8660) of 2008 obliges operators to provide open access to networks and services (Article 75), and promotes transparent and nondiscriminatory investment in the telecommunications sector.3

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

Costa Rica’s online information landscape is relatively diverse and reliable. According to a 2018 report from PROLEDI and CICOM, a slim majority (47.4 percent) of those who practice journalism on digital platforms believe that there are expressions of diversity and pluralism of information on the network.1 A 2020 report by the same organizations found that media outlets, including digital, are concentrated near the capital, and that 25 of Costa Rica’s 82 cantons have no dedicated media outlets. Ten percent of surveyed outlets use Indigenous languages; 33 percent surveyed said they had LGBT+ staff, 30 percent employed migrants and refugees, 20 percent employed Costa Ricans of African descent, and 14 percent had Indigenous employees, though gaps persisted between staff and managerial levels. There is also evidence of a gender gap.2

A 2018 report by Latinobarómetro declared Costa Rica the regional leader in the use of social media.3

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

Digital tools are used for political and social activism. Social media is notably used to organize movements, share information, and collect evidence for legal challenges. Woman activists have created social media campaigns to protest issues including pineapple plantations’ land use, and pollution. However, many of these activists have received threats in response to their activities.1

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? 6.006 6.006

The Costa Rican constitution protects freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of the press. Article 28 states that no one may be persecuted for the expression of their opinion or for any act that does not violate the law.1 Similarly, article 29 states that everyone may communicate in writing and publish without prior censorship, though individuals also assume responsibility if they break laws while exercising these rights.2

The judiciary is largely independent and protects freedom of speech and of the press.3

While Costa Rica lacks specific legislation on freedom of expression online, it is considered in other legislation and judicial decisions. In several rulings, the Constitutional Chamber has referenced the exercise of freedom of expression online, taking as a basis articles 28 and 29 of the constitution, as well as various treaties signed by the country.4 Limits have also been established; for example, the Code of Children and Adolescents allows for some restrictions to freedom of expression online to protect the rights of children.5

Between 2012 and 2015, the Constitutional Chamber has issued rulings that prevent state authorities operating institutional social media (for example, the Communication Ministry’s Facebook page) accounts from blocking users, arguing that criticism of the government is encompassed in the right to free expression, and that such freedom is extended to the use of social networks and information and communication technologies. 6

Although Costa Rica does not have a law on access to public information, there is a vast jurisprudence of the Constitutional Chamber that guarantees this right to all citizens.7 The court has upheld the obligation of public administrations to provide “open data” that may be freely used and distributed.8 The country has also had an open government and open data policy since 2015, which promotes access to information, citizen participation, and the principles of transparency and government accountability.9

  • 1Republic of Costa Rica, “Constitución Política de la República de Costa Rica,” 1948,…
  • 2Republic of Costa Rica, “Constitución Política de la República de Costa Rica,” 1948,…
  • 3Programa Estado de la Nación, “Tercer Informe del Estado de la Justicia,” 2020,… ; Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2021: Costa Rica,” 2021,
  • 4“Sala Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica: Resolución N° 2012-016882,” Sala Constitutional, 2012 // Sala Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica, “Resolución N°16882-2012,” 2012,
  • 5Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica, “Ley 7339 Código de la Niñez y la Adolescencia, Publicada en el Diario Oficial La Gaceta 26 del 6 de febrero de 1998,” June 1, 1998,…
  • 6Sala Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica, “Resolución N°16882-2012,” 2012,; Sala Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica, “Resolucion N° 5803-2013,”; Sala Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica, “Resolución N° 1988-2025,” 2015
  • 7In exercising the freedom to inform, journalists and representatives from the media and communication sectors have sought, on many occasions, protections for the right of access to public information by appealing to the Constitutional Chamber. A large number of votes contribute to the development of the legal nature, scope, and guarantees for access to public information, in addition to broadening the conditions for the democratic exercise of freedom of the press. The Constitutional Court has also tackled, among other issues, access to open data, legislative information, registration of the actions of police forces, and the right of access to public information in the context of the health emergency.
  • 8Sala Constitucional de Costa Rica, Resolución No. 15104-2018 de las 9:20 horas del 14 de setiembre de 2018. Se trata de un recurso de amparo interpuesto por periodistas del Semanario Universidad, quienes solicitaron información al Instituto Meteorológico sobre cambio climático en formato editable y sin contraseña, y les fue negada.
  • 9Decretos Ejecutivos No. 38994, de 29 de abril de 2015 y No. 40199 de 27 de abril de 2017
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? 3.003 4.004

There are no specific laws establishing criminal or civil sanctions for online activities. However, crimes against honor such as slander and libel are defined as criminal offenses, both in the penal code1 and in the Printing Press Law.2

Article 145 of the penal code criminalizes insults, and article 146 defamation. Under article 147, falsely accusing someone of a crime is punishable by a fine of 150 days’ wages. Article 148 criminalizes harm to the reputation of a dead person via injurious or defamatory statements. The Printing Press Law contains similar provisions for media.3 Various political actors have pointed out that these provisions could be used to file criminal charges for statements made online by the press or by users denouncing issues like corruption, environmental degradation, and other concerns.4

While there is no legislation against fake news or disinformation, two initiatives have been put forward. A law on the protection of honor in the face of abuse on social networks was introduced in 2018 by the ultraconservative New Republic party.5 It seeks to increase penalties when an offense is committed in public or on "any social network or technological tool of mass dissemination."6 In addition, Erwen Masís, a Social Christian Unity Party lawmaker, introduced a cybercrime bill in 2018 that would punish the dissemination of false news capable of distorting or damaging the financial system, or of affecting the decisions of the electorate, with one to four years in prison.7 Both initiatives have been criticized by organizations focused on freedom of expression, and neither had advanced in the legislature by the end of the coverage period.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? 6.006 6.006

There are no reports of individuals being penalized for online activities protected by international human rights standards. Recent reports of users who have been arrested or prosecuted are related to cases where the internet is used for illegal activities like extorting public figures, sharing revenge porn,1 and disseminating child sexual abuse images.2

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3.003 4.004

There are no reports of restrictions on anonymous or encrypted communications. SIM card registration is mandatory, though a data-privacy framework is in place.1

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 5.005 6.006

The rights to privacy, intimacy, freedom, and secrecy in communications are enshrined in the constitution and are applicable to online activities. Article 24 of the Constitution establishes that private documents and written, oral, and others type of communications are inviolable, and that exceptions require special laws approved by a qualified majority of the parliament.1 These provisions have been reinforced by the Constitutional Chamber.2

SUTEL and PRODHAB are legally empowered to protect the rights of users but only do so upon request of a user, rather than proactively.3

The government is not known to collect communications metadata, intercept private communications, or monitor journalists, political figures, or human rights defenders, nor does it appear to have the technical capacity.4 However, controversy over possible government surveillance arose in February 2020, when the media reported on the recent publication of an executive decree creating a Presidential Data Analysis Unit (UPAD) attached to the office of the president of the republic. UPAD was given the power to access "confidential information held by public institutions when required.”5 The decree was repealed soon after it was made public in the media,6 but it led to a political crisis that resulted in the resignation of the minister of the presidency,7 criminal charges against the president,8 the dismissal of the advisers involved in drafting the decree,9 the installation of a legislative commission in parliament to investigate whether President Alvarado violated people’s right to privacy with the UPAD,10 and the raid of the presidential residence, ordered by the attorney general's office.11

This crisis also generated public debate on the use of personal data for the creation of public policy and solutions to national problems,12 as well as criticism from specialists and political actors on the alleged irregular use and access by UPAD's advisors to databases with sensitive personal information.13 At the end of the coverage period, accusations of irregular access to sensitive information by the government have not been corroborated, and the legal cases against the president are still open. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about the president’s right to privacy, in light of leaks related to the controversy 14 and reports that an opposition lawmaker was in possession of the password of the president's cell phone.15

In June 2021, after the coverage period, a new COVID-19 exposure notification system was automatically installed on users’ phones. Apple users were notified and given the choice to opt in or out. Android users saw the system as a new app before the government had announced the initiative, though still needed to activate it to opt in. However, the incident led to accusations of government surveillance.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? 5.005 6.006

The General Telecommunications Law establishes that service providers must guarantee the secrecy and privacy of communications, as well as the right to privacy and protection of personal data of internet users.1 Article 42 of the General Telecommunications Law obliges providers to guarantee that user communications and metadata will not be stored or monitored by third parties without their consent, except with a court order.2

Interception of communications is only applied in extreme scenarios.3 The law on the registration, seizure and examination of private documents and the intervention of communications establishes that only courts may intervene in private communications, and only when it is essential to revealing necessary evidence on criminal cases of an urgent social need, as a last resort.4

In the same sense, the Law for the Protection of Individuals guarantees the right to informational self-determination, which encompasses guarantees regarding the legitimate processing of their personal data. It also gives users the right to rectification and the right of data subjects to access their data.5 This recognition is one of the mechanisms to guarantee the constitutional right to privacy and intimacy and is, at the same time, the guideline that must be complied with to collect, retain, or inspect personal data of the inhabitants.

Some actors have pointed out that the Law for the Protection of Individuals is an omissive and outdated law, with gaps that do not adequately address contemporary challenges such as automated data collection and processing, data geolocation, and knowledge of where the data is stored.6 In addition, they have pointed out that the broad wording of some articles may be interpreted to the detriment of individual privacy.7 Proposed reforms to the law promoted by the Citizen Action Party and supported by civil society organizations8 would update principles, guarantee the rights of users in the digital era, grant independence to the national agency that protects personal data, and regulate the extraterritoriality of data processing.9 In 2021, the bill was in its early phase in the legislative process.

Shortcomings in the legislation have become visible in cases related to the registration of biometric data. The authorities of the city of Alajuela announced in November 2020 the installation of 195 cameras that would use facial-recognition technology and artificial intelligence to detect crimes, even as the country lacks a specific rule regulating the storage and processing of biometric data.10 In response to criticism, the attorney general’s office determined that municipalities lack the power to manage the facial registry of inhabitants and established that a special law is needed on the subject.11 The law proposed by the Citizen Action Party would correct this issue.

Between July and December 2020, Facebook received 43 requests for information on 69 accounts. The company has produced information for 44 percent of government requests. Six were related to the legal process, while the remaining were emergency requests.12 Google received 18 requests on 23 accounts between January and June 2020, 14 emergency and four for other legal reasons.13

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

Certain segments of the population face harassment and intimidation. Women activists advocating against pineapple plantations in part through the use of smartphones and social media have been threatened online, for example.1

No Coma Cuento, an initiative by the Argentinean newspaper La Nación to fight disinformation, noted that migrants and refugees were the main victims of false news spread in the context of Costa Rica’s February 2020 municipal elections.2 Anonymous Facebook pages also incite hatred against Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica. During 2020 and 2021, misleading images circulated of supposed groups of Nicaraguans infected with COVID-19 entering Costa Rica through the country's northern border.3 Coordinated campaigns against Nicaraguan migrants also spread on Facebook and WhatsApp in 2018, probably contributing to violence that occurred at an antimigrant protest that year.4

In January 2020, Afro-Costa Rican boxer Hanna Gabriels faced online harassment after publicly supporting a migrants’ solidarity campaign organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).5 She reported receiving threats and attacks online, and false or misleading information about her circulated.6 This in turn generated expressions of solidarity and support from politicians and Costa Rica’s president.7

LGBT+ people have also been targeted through the dissemination of false or misleading information. Ahead of same-sex marriage entering into force in May 2020, information spread online claiming that the president’s Facebook page posted a photo of a drag performer, and, separately, that the president attacked a bus driver for kicking a gay couple off a bus.8

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

In Costa Rica, the websites of government entities are subject to different types of cyberattacks.1

In 2012, the Computer Security Incident Response Center, based at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT),2 was created to work with government offices and public institutions like state banks on information and cybersecurity. However, the work of the department, according to MICITT documentation, has been limited due to a lack of resources.3

The National Cybersecurity Strategy, developed in 2017 by the MICITT, sought to develop a general framework for security of information and communication technologies, as well as to develop prevention and mitigation measures against the risks of the information-technology environment.4 Its progress was unclear at the end of the coverage period.

On Costa Rica

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  • Global Freedom Score

    91 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    85 100 free
  • Freedom in the World Status

  • Networks Restricted

  • Websites Blocked

  • Pro-government Commentators

  • Users Arrested