Costa Rica

A Obstacles to Access 21 25
B Limits on Content 33 35
C Violations of User Rights 31 40
Last Year's Score & Status
88 100 Free
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 continues to have one of the world’s most open online environments, though challenges have emerged under the government of President Rodrigo Chaves Robles. Internet access is generally robust, though socioeconomic and geographic divides persist. Users enjoy unfettered access to online content and their rights to free expression are largely protected by the laws and the courts. However, government institutions have struggled to build resiliency to disruptive cyberattacks. Under the Chaves government, worsening online intimidation—particularly against critical journalists—has begun to undermine the country’s strong tradition of press freedom.

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. Among other ongoing concerns, LGBT+ people and Indigenous people face discrimination, and land disputes involving Indigenous communities persist.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2022 - May 31, 2023

  • High-profile instances of targeted online harassment, with apparent links to members of the government of President Chaves, have contributed to growing unease and self-censorship among the country’s journalists (see B4, B5, and C7).
  • In March 2023, the Goicoechea Criminal Court convicted journalist Marlon Mora on two counts of defamation against 2018 presidential candidate Juan Diego Castro. Castro said he was defamed by material on the political satire show Suave un Toque, which was broadcast online. Mora had served as the station director of Canal UCR, which hosted the program (see C3).
  • Efforts to reform or replace the country’s existing data-protection framework, the Law for the Protection of Individuals against the Processing of Personal Data, with more robust safeguards remained pending in the Legislative Assembly (see C6).

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

Internet access in Costa Rica has been steadily increasing. As of January 2023, internet penetration had reached 89.6 percent.1 There were 7.86 million mobile connections in the country at that time, equivalent to 151.2 percent of the total population and a 2.3 percent increase from the previous year.2 Third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) technology for mobile networks is available to 94 and 93 percent of the population, respectively.3

According to the most recently available data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2021, 81 percent of households had internet access at home, and 87 out of every 100 inhabitants had active mobile-broadband subscriptions.4

According to Speedtest Global Index, the median download speed of fixed broadband in May 2023 was 73.04 megabits per second (Mbps) and 22.67 Mbps for upload. The same period showed the median download speed of mobile connections at 28.60 Mbps and upload at 8.19 Mbps.5

Costa Rica's fiber-optic infrastructure has steadily expanded over recent years. The country’s Superintendency of Telecommunications (SUTEL) reported that the country's total fiber-optic infrastructure had expanded to roughly 191,589 kilometers (119,048 miles) in 2022, with fiber-optic connections accounting for 40 percent of all fixed-line subscriptions that year.6 In December 2022, the government presented an updated National Telecommunications Development Plan (PNDT) for 2022–27, aiming to expand and improve connectivity across the country by boosting private investment, and to reduce the digital divide (see A2).7

The Ministry of Science, Innovation, Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT) has plans to offer the public multiple 5G-based services by 2024.8 In February 2023, SUTEL presented a formal recommendation to MICITT that it should start the public tender process for the development of the 5G network in Costa Rica.9

The nationwide implementation of 5G technology has faced delays, however. Since 2022, negotiations regarding access to 5G- spectrum bands and fair competition have complicated plans to roll out the service.10 Nevertheless, in May 2023, the MICITT provided SUTEL with guidelines for the 5G public tender11 and the government published a new National Frequency Allocation Plan (PNAF) that month.12 SUTEL is expected to hold 5G spectrum auctions in October 2023.13

While the country's connectivity infrastructure is generally efficient, weather patterns and other natural phenomena can affect connectivity. These include a rainy season from May to November, which brings flooding risks; as well as seismic movements, as the country is located in a subduction zone where three major tectonic plates interact.14 Hurricanes also bring flooding and can otherwise damage infrastructure.15

Connectivity is also threatened by cable theft. In August 2022, ICE announced a plan to disincentivize copper cable theft, which between 2015 and 2020 had cost the institution nearly $700 million.16 Previously, ICE stated that between 2020 and 2021, cable theft had left 36,000 of its users in over half of the country’s municipalities without internet and phone service.17 In November 2022, ICE announced efforts to completely replace the entire copper wire infrastructure with fiber optic systems in the district of Chires de Puriscal, a region where 80 percent of the cable infrastructure had been dismantled since 2019.18 In March 2023, President Chaves signed a law that strengthened sanctions against cable theft, introducing penalties of up to 10 years in prison, which entered into force the following month.19

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 only 71 percent of households in rural areas, versus 85 percent of households in urban areas, reporting having internet access in 2021.1 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.

In 2023, the average monthly cost of fixed-line broadband was $42.43 per month.2 In 2022, one gigabyte (GB) of mobile service cost an average of 1,500 colones ($2.42) per month. The cheapest price for 1 GB of mobile service was 960 colones ($1.50), while the most expensive was 6,667 colones ($10.80).3 The average monthly income per household in 2022 was 1,023,641 colones ($1,660),4 though there was a disparity between urban and rural areas; the average monthly household income in urban areas was 1,147,414 colones ($1,860), while in rural areas it was 696,987 colones ($1,130). Cheaper prepaid plans constituted 42 percent of mobile internet plans in the fourth quarter of 2022.5

SUTEL publishes tariff rates, which correspond to the maximum rates that can be charged for telecommunication services. As of May 2023, the maximum rate of 1 GB of prepaid mobile internet was 7,969 colones ($13); postpaid mobile internet with 128/64 kbps bandwidth was $15 monthly.6

Costa Rica ranks third of 72 countries in the 2021 Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) report, which measures policy and regulatory factors that can enable more affordable broadband.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 for 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 By August 2022, for example, FONATEL had installed 25 telecommunications towers to improve connectivity in 14 Indigenous territories across the country, with the goal of installing 70 by March 2024.11

Costa Rica has proactively sought to reduce a gendered digital divide. Data from SUTEL shows that one initiative, Hogares Conectados (Connected Homes), had successfully granted internet access to more than 800,000 people, including approximately 139,000 female-led households, by April 2023.12 The country has also made efforts to confront the barriers of access for people with disabilities. PNDT 2022–27 includes a goal of promoting digital literacy to 600 people with disabilities by 2027.13

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.14 As of April 2023, 2,176 kilometers of fiber-optic cable have connected 513 public places, including 419 parks and squares, 66 public libraries and civic centers, and 28 train stations, and has a presence in 316 of 492 districts of Costa Rica.15 FONATEL has faced criticism in recent years, however, for the slow deployment of plans and the redirection of funds earmarked for expanding access to pay for deficits generated by the telecommunications sector.16

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.

Four fiber-optic submarine cables, two of which are partially-owned by state-run provider ICE, connect the country to the global network.1 In November 2022, service provider Claro Costa Rica announced the country’s connection to Mexican telecom América Móvil's AMX-1 submarine cable, with a total investment of approximately $500 million.2

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.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

Until 2008, ICE held a state monopoly on telecommunications, but Costa Rica has since encouraged private investment.1 The PNDT 2022-27 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

Costa Rica’s mobile internet market is dominated by three providers. According to SUTEL, ICE (under the brand Kolbi) provided service for 45.4 percent of mobile internet subscribers in 2022. Liberty captured 33.7 percent of users, followed by América Móvil (under the brand Claro) at 21 percent.3 When analyzed by prepaid or postpaid, ICE held 46.5 percent of the postpaid market share, Liberty held 29.8 percent, and Claro held 23.7 percent.4 ICE also led the prepaid market with 41.5 percent, Liberty had 40.4 percent, and Claro had 18.1 percent.5

The fixed-line internet market is somewhat less concentrated. ICE led the market share for fixed internet in 2022, with 26.6 percent.6 Liberty had 24.6 percent, Telecable Económico had 21.2 percent, Tigo had 18.1 percent, and the other service providers made up the remaining 9.5 percent.7

In June 2022, Movistar and Cabletica unified into Liberty Costa Rica after Liberty Latin America acquired both brands as subsidiaries.8 Because Movistar and Cabletica operated in different sectors of internet service provision, their merger is not expected to significantly alter the overall availability of services.

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.9

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.10

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.11

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 Office of the Minister and two vice-ministries. The Vice-Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation focuses on promoting research, the use of digital technologies, and innovation in processes between the academic, governmental, and business sectors. The Vice-Ministry of Telecommunications is 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 in which civil society groups participate.4 The National Telecommunications Plan (PNDT) 2022–27 was opened to public consultation in November 20215 and presented in December 2022.6

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.7

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. SUTEL reaffirmed in 2021 that existing legislation does not allow the applications to be blocked, citing requirements under the Law of the Public Service Regulating Authority (ARESEP) that telecommunications operators offer free, timely, and nondiscriminatory access to their networks to users and providers of online services.1 In May 2023, the government introduced plans to regulate mobile transportation apps in line with traditional taxi drivers, appearing to end efforts to block the platforms in the country.2

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? 4.004 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 compelled some outlets to remove content from their digital platforms. However, the powers of the Data Protection Agency (PRODHAB) to order the removal of content in the media 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 ruled that the resolution was detrimental to freedom of information, as the photograph was in the public interest, and said that the individual’s consent was not required to post it. The court reasoned that PRODHAB cannot use its power to enforce the Law for the Protection of Individuals against the Processing of Personal Data, because doing so would constitute indirect state censorship.2

Between January and July 2022, Facebook restricted 65 items due to complaints from the Ministry of Health denouncing the illegal sale of medical and dietary products.3

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

In Costa Rica, restrictions on digital content are narrow in scope, proportional to stated aims, and aligned with international human rights standards.

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 must 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 that 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

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

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to increased self-censorship among journalists, due in part to the government’s hostility towards investigative reporters and outlets.

Though self-censorship online is not widespread for most internet users in Costa Rica, it has become a more serious issue for journalists and other online critics of the current government.

In January 2023, Chaves accused journalists from CRHoy, one of the most prominent digital outlets in the country, as well as those from La Nación and Teletica, of being “political hitmen.”1 His remarks came amid journalistic investigations into alleged links between his government and coordinated online harassment campaigns (see B5 and C7). Earlier, during his 2022 campaign, Chaves said that if elected he would “destroy” La Nación and another outlet, Canal 7, both of which had reported that Chaves was demoted from his past position at the World Bank over sexual harassment allegations.2 In May 2023, the Constitutional Chamber ruled that Chaves had violated press freedom through his repeated attacks on media outlets, including the targeted verbal attacks he issued in January 2023.3

Recent polls show an accompanying increase in self-censorship among journalists. A November 2022 report by the University of Costa Rica’s Program for Freedom of Expression, Right to Information and Public Opinion (PROLEDI), found that many Costa Rican journalists have stopped reporting on issues related to the government or have self-censored on social media. Eighty percent of Costa Rican journalists surveyed indicated that they had deleted material from their personal social networks or otherwise limited their digital identity; 60 percent said that they had deleted posts on social networks in order to protect their own or their family’s safety.4 In January 2023, the leadership of the Association of Journalists and Professionals in Collective Communication Sciences (COLPER), the most important professional association of journalists in Costa Rica, released a statement online denouncing Chaves’ treatment of the press.5

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

While the Costa Rican government has not typically controlled or manipulated online information sources in the past,1 during the coverage period, a government minister was implicated in facilitating an online smear campaign against critics of the Chaves administration.

In December 2022, reports emerged that Joselyn Chacón, the minister of public health, had allegedly paid an online troll using the pseudonym “Piero Calandrelli” to attack journalists and other critics of the government online.2 In January 2023, Alberto Vargas, the individual responsible for the Piero Calandrelli account, claimed in a legislative hearing to be part of a wider troll network that received orders from Chacón and other political figures associated with the Chaves government.3 That month, the Chaves government issued a statement denying any official involvement in the troll network, claiming that “[t]he alleged unilateral and personal actions of some officials linked to the executive branch and other agencies do not reflect the government’s actions.”4

Both the Legislative Assembly and the attorney general’s office have opened investigations into the issue.5 In a hearing before the Electoral Finance Investigative Commission in late January, Chacón confirmed making a payment to Vargas in order to “hurt” critical journalists, after previously claiming that the payment was meant for Vargas to promote a vaccination campaign online.6 Days later, in February 2023, Chacón resigned from the Ministry of Health.7

Around this time, a separate, seemingly coordinated network of potentially inauthentic accounts emerged on social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. These progovernment accounts were usually dedicated to defending the government of President Chaves through a deluge of positive comments,8 and in some instances, launched targeted harassment campaigns against political opponents, critical journalists, and other public figures who opined against the president (see C7).

In another coordinated smear operation, in October 2022, Daniel Blumberg, a political adviser and supporter of President Chaves, was found to have posted doctored WhatsApp conversations on Facebook in an apparent effort to undermine the credibility of CRHoy journalist Jason Ureña.9

In the last presidential election, during the previous coverage period, fake accounts were used to generate and amplify social media content. The Universidad Latina de Costa Rica found that over 11 percent of social media posts it examined were published by inauthentic accounts during the electoral period, reaching peaks of 19 and 21 percent in the weeks leading up to the vote.10 Additionally, in April 2022, Meta announced that it had removed a network of 233 Facebook accounts, 84 pages, 2 groups, and 27 Instagram accounts for violating its policy on coordinated inauthentic behavior. The network, which originated in and targeted both Costa Rica and Ecuador, spent more than $128,000 on digital advertising and reached more than 212,000 social media accounts. It ran pages that posed as news outlets and amplified the pages’ content about local politicians. The network was found to have links to the Noelix Media public relations firm, which has offices in both countries.11

Various Costa Rican institutions, organizations, and media outlets have sought to combat online disinformation in recent years. Included among these are the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), which collaborated with Facebook to remove false electoral information ahead of the February 2022 presidential election,12 and the University of Costa Rica, which has established a fact-checking initiative called Double Check.13

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 report by PROLEDI and the Communication Research Center (CICOM) found that journalists who report limits to diversity and pluralism online attribute the issue to the use of state advertising; problems with 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

During the coverage period, the government took actions that negatively impacted the financial standing of La Nación, a print newspaper with a significant digital presence. In July 2022, the government suspended the operating permit of Parque Viva, an entertainment center for concerts owned by Grupo La Nación, the media group that owns La Nación.3 The closure of Parque Viva was widely perceived as retribution for the newspapers critical coverage of the government, and occurred after the declarations of the general director who said that said the place was a relevant source of income for the newspaper.4 In October 2022, the Constitutional Chamber rejected this executive decision to order the venue’s closure and condemned the government for an indirect violation of freedom of expression.5

Separately, in January 2023, the Ministry of Finance announced in a press conference the existence of a possible tax fraud case involving businessman Leonel Baruch; during the announcement, government authorities failed to mention that prosecutors had already requested that the case be dismissed.6 Baruch is the board president of CRHoy, a widely read digital news website known for its scrutiny of the government. Baruch denied the ministry's accusations and alleged that the tax issues amounted to political persecution connected to CRHoy. In June, after the coverage period, Baruch announced that he intends to sue President Chaves for defamation over the issue.7

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.8

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.

A 2020 report from PROLEDI and CICOM found that media outlets, including digital ones, are concentrated near the capital, and that 25 of Costa Rica’s 82 cantons have no dedicated media outlets covering local affairs. 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.1

Though the online information landscape remains largely reliable, the presence of disinformation may cloud users’ ability to identify credible information. In May 2019, according to a 2021 CICOM publication, 18 and 19 percent of respondents had knowingly shared false information on WhatsApp and Facebook, respectively. At that time, 30 percent of respondents claimed to have little or no ability to recognize false information online.2

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. For example, activists have created social media campaigns, such as Brujas Feministas CR1 and La Cadejos,2 to promote feminist causes and denounce violence against women.

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, the issue 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 to which Costa Rica is a signatory.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 issued rulings that prevent state authorities operating institutional social media 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 (see B3).6 .

Although Costa Rica does not have a law on access to public information, there is a vast Constitutional Chamber jurisprudence 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

In May 2022, during the previous coverage period, then president Carlos Alvarado Quesada partially vetoed the General Law of Access to Public Information and Transparency, which had been approved by the Legislative Assembly a month before, on grounds that a number its clauses posed a risk to the rights of access to information and freedom of the press. Press freedom and human rights advocates, who had labeled it the “Gag Law” in part due to the limitations it established on access to information, welcomed the decision.10

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 These provisions could potentially 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

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 5.005 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 6 to 5 because television director Marlon Mora was convicted by a criminal court under defamation charges related to a political satire program broadcast online.

In recent years, reports of users arrested or prosecuted for online activity have typically been related to cases where the internet is used for illegal activities like extorting public figures, sharing nonconsensual intimate imagery,1 and disseminating child sexual abuse images.2 However, during the coverage period, a journalist was convicted on criminal defamation charges over a political satire program broadcast online.

In March 2023, the Goicoechea Criminal Court sentenced Marlon Mora under the country’s defamation articles (see C2). Mora was found guilty of two counts of defamation against former 2018 presidential candidate Juan Diego Castro for material that appeared on the Suave un Toque program, in which journalism students produced satire about current affairs. The program was broadcast on television and online, and material regarding Castro had gone viral on social media during the campaign period.3 Mora at the time had been the director of Canal UCR, which hosted Suave un Toque.4 In the ruling, Mora was ordered to pay a fine of 600,000 colones ($970), as well as 15 million colones ($24,000) for civil damages and 3 million colones ($5,000) for the personal expenses incurred by Castro.5 The court also ordered Mora to publish the judge’s decision in full in a national media outlet. During the legal proceedings, authorities approved Castro’s request to seize Mora’s assets, which Mora denounced as “intimidating mechanisms.”6

PROLEDI condemned the decision, arguing that it was contrary to inter-American standards on freedom of expression and set a dangerous precedent for the practice of journalism in Costa Rica. In a statement, COLPER also criticized the decision as excessive and “a form of censorship.”7

Separately, in January 2023, the Ministry of Finance announced in a press conference the existence of a possible tax fraud case involving Leonel Baruch, a businessman and politician; during the announcement, government authorities failed to mention that prosecutors had already requested that the case be dismissed.8 Baruch is the board president of CRHoy, a widely read digital news website known for its scrutiny of the government. Baruch denied the ministry's accusations and alleged that the tax issues amounted to political persecution connected to CRHoy. In June, after the coverage period, Baruch announced that he intends to sue President Chaves for defamation over the issue.9

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 other types 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 to do so.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. The 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

In February 2022, the attorney general’s office requested that the Supreme Court lift then president Alvarado’s immunity in order to start a trial against him for fraud of law, abuse of power, and prevarication in the creation of the UPAD.12 That same month, the public ethics prosecutor’s office initiated a lawsuit for social damages caused by the UPAD against Alvarado and Víctor Morales Mora, the former minister of the presidency, as well as a current deputy also implicated in the pending legal cases.13 However, accusations of irregular access to sensitive information by the government has not been corroborated. In August 2022, the Constitutional Chamber determined that the decree creating the UPAD was unconstitutional, ruling that one of its articles related to personal data ”infringed the right to informational self-determination” of individuals.14

In March 2022, the permanent representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Catalina Devandas, called for an immediate moratorium on the use of spyware technology “until a regulatory framework that protects human rights is implemented.” Costa Rica became the first country to make such a call.15

In August 2022, an investigation by Lighthouse Reports revealed that Italian surveillance company Tykelab had exploited vulnerabilities in global phone networks to send secret “tracking packets,” enabling third parties to view phone locations and potentially intercept calls without being detected to individuals around the world, including in Costa Rica.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 reveal 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 stakeholders have criticized the Law for the Protection of Individuals as incomplete and outdated, noting gaps that do not adequately address 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 In recent years, legislators have proposed reforms that would address these shortcomings. A proposal from the Citizen Action Party and supported by civil society organizations8 introduced in January 20219 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.10 After this reform appeared to stall in the Legislative Assembly, a separate bill introduced in May 2022, No. 23,097, would go even further. Bill No. 23,097 would repeal the Law for the Protection of Individuals altogether, replacing it with a new Personal Data Protection Law.11 The proposed law would establish updated personal-data protection principles, create standards for data transfers in the public sector, and regulate international personal-data flows. The Personal Data Protection Law would also create a new, independent Personal Data Protection Agency to enforce the provisions of the law and impose sanctions for violations.12 Bill No. 23,097 was pending a vote in the Legislative Assembly at the end of the coverage period.

Proponents of the recent reforms have also expressed interest in adhering to Convention 108+, a Council of Europe treaty on the protection of personal data online.13 Argentina and Uruguay were the only Latin American nations to have ratified the convention as of the end of the coverage period.

In August 2022, thousands of Costa Ricans received an unsolicited text message via SMS from the National Radio and Television System (SINART) inviting them to watch a President Chaves televised event.14 The incident drew criticism from politicians, communications experts, and others. SINART defended itself by arguing that it legally used a database from kölbi, the commercial brand of the state telecommunications operator, ICE15 —though the number of people who received the message remains unknown. PRODHAB announced an investigation into the matter, but has not yet communicated anything else related to this issue.16

Between January and June 2022, Facebook received 13 requests for information on 17 accounts. The company produced information in response to approximately 54 percent of those requests. All were related to emergency disclosure requests.17

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? 3.003 5.005

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to an increase in targeted intimidation and threats online, in large part directed at critics of the Chaves government.

Costa Rica’s relatively free environment for open expression declined during the coverage period. Government threats against the press and political opponents, coordinated harassment campaigns by accounts exhibiting apparent inauthentic behavior, and online intimidation including hate speech have resulted in an increasingly negative environment for online freedom and communication. Online harassment is also directed towards women politicians, LGBT+ people, migrants, people of African descent, and young people.

In June 2022 Alberto Padilla, a Mexican journalist living in Costa Rica, was visited at his radio station by five armed migration police officers. The police claimed that they were clarifying his immigration status based on an anonymous citizen query, within their mandate and regular scope of work.1 Padilla said he believed the heavy-handed immigration check came in connection with a weeks-old tweet in which he had criticized President Chaves.

During the coverage period, several high-profile figures received targeted online threats and harassment after criticizing the Chaves administration. In July 2022, former president of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla said she experienced an onslaught of online harassment after criticizing President Chaves’ hostility towards the media in a tweet.2 In December 2022, a network of accounts launched a seemingly coordinated attack against opposition Congressman Ariel Robles after he posted criticism of the Chaves government on Facebook.3 The accounts, which appeared to originate from several countries, demonstrated signs of inauthentic behavior.4 At the end of January 2023, Rodrigo Arias, president of the Legislative Assembly, was attacked on his Facebook account by an "army of trolls” after he said the Chaves administration had engaged in an abuse of power.5 Around the same time, opposition deputy José Francisco Nicolás Alvarado was harassed by trolls on Facebook after he criticized then minister of health Joselyn Chacón. Chacón herself was implicated in efforts to finance coordinated smear operations against critical journalists (see B5), admitting that she intended to “hurt” certain journalists through online harassment.

In August 2022, a study by Universidad Latina de Costa Rica found that former first lady Claudia Dobles was the most common target of negative or hateful comments on social media during the first three months of the Chaves government.6 The attacks escalated after she criticized the president's decision to cancel an electric train project that she had led. The research noted that 20 percent of negative comments made against women public figures during this period—including Dobles, Chacón, and Chinchilla—referenced either their sex or physical appearance.7

Complaints about the use of trolls to target certain figures have increased since Chaves took office.8 This environment has contributed to unease among journalists and growing concerns regarding self-censorship online (see B4).

In June 2022, COES Communication and the United Nations published a report in which researchers had detected more than 937,000 messages and social media conversations linked with hate speech and discrimination in Costa Rica between June 2021 and May 2022, a 71 percent increase from the previous year’s results.9 In November 2022, the United Nations said it was concerned by the increase of hate speech against the migrants in the country.10 A study analyzing online hate speech between May 2022 and May 2023 found that discriminatory speech related to xenophobia had increased by 110 percent over the previous year, with notable increases also recorded in antiwoman (+72 percent) and homophobic (+24 percent) speech.11

Individuals critical of the Chaves government have also received online threats of physical violence. In June 2023, after the coverage period, the director of the digital outlet No Pasa Nada CR reported that he had received two death threats during the previous six months, noting that such threats had never occurred under Chaves’ predecessor.12

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? 1.001 3.003

The websites of government entities are subject to different types of cyberattacks.1 There were two major cyberattacks in 2022, and authorities have struggled to fully understand what caused them.

In 2022, during the previous coverage period, two major ransomware attacks paralyzed essential state institutions and services and caused the loss of millions of dollars from the private sector. From mid-April to early May 2022, a Russian-linked ransomware group known as Conti targeted nearly 30 government ministries, starting with the ministry of finance.2 Conti demanded that the government pay a $20 million ransom to return, and keep them from leaking, the stolen information.3 The group also warned of its intentions to overthrow the government via cyberattack in a separate statement. The attacks, which disrupted tax collection and export systems for over a month, led President Chaves to declare a national emergency on May 8.4

Conti also targeted municipal governments and academic institutions during this time.5 The impact of the attacks was long-lasting: the online system for the Ministry of Finance’s Virtual Tax Administration (ATV) remained offline until June 13, 2022.6 Some commentators alleged that Conti was motivated by Costa Rica having sided with Ukraine in the context of the Russian regime’s full-scale invasion, though cybersecurity experts believed that it was purely a matter of financial gain.7

Later in May, while still grappling with the aftereffects of the first attack, Costa Rican institutions fell victim to another ransomware attack. On May 31, 2022, the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), the country’s public health service, was targeted with Hive ransomware, which forced it to take its systems offline.8 The Hive ransomware group, which is believed to have links to Conti, demanded $5 million in bitcoin to decrypt the systems.9 CCSS declared an institutional emergency a few days later. Reporting indicated that over half of the service’s 1,500 servers had been affected and detailed significant disruptions, like the rescheduling of nearly 35,000 health appointments.10

One year after the 2022 attacks, much remains unclear about what happened and how much information was lost. In April 2023, during a legislative hearing, a privacy expert noted that “we don’t know what happened, we don’t know what data was stolen, we don’t know if we’ve recovered, we don’t know how much the recovery cost.”11 A report by the Comptroller General of the Republic of Costa Rica, covering January 2021 through November 2022, pointed to a lack of coordination between institutions on cyberattacks, and untimely management by the MICITT.12 In addition, the report found that the Costa Rican public sector lacks clarity on the prevalence of cybersecurity incidents.13

Since the 2022 cyberattacks, the government has implemented some resilience strategies. In June 2022, shortly after the April and May ransomware attacks, the MICITT announced a joint effort with state universities to address the country’s cybersecurity issues. The initiative aims to use the tools and knowledge that state universities use in managing cyberattacks to inform and strengthen national capacity to respond to such incidents.14

In December 2022, the MICITT and European Union (EU) signed a memo to cooperate on stronger cybersecurity in the country.15 In January 2023, the US government offered the services of a specialist team to advise the MICITT in cybersecurity issues,16 and in March 2023, the United States pledged $25 million to help strengthen Costa Rica’s cyberdefenses.17 The same month, the Israeli government revealed that specialists from their country had warned the Costa Rican government before the Conti attack about the high likelihood that the country could be targeted due to its vulnerability in information technology.18

Previously, in 2012, the Computer Security Incident Response Center, based at the MICITT,19 had been created to work with government offices and public institutions like state banks on information and cybersecurity.20 Following the attacks, in November 2022, the MICITT improved the capacity of the center, which is now staffed by 12 people and offers 24-hour service.21

In January 2023, the MICITT and the Directorate of Intelligence and National Security (DIS) confirmed a new ransomware-type cyberattack against the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Works and Transport. The incident did not have a major impact on public services.22

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