- In two cases, journalists sued under the previous Correa government were found not guilty for publishing critical information online (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).
- In May 2018, the executive sent a proposal to reform repressive elements of 2013 Communication Law to the National Assembly. Changes contemplate the elimination of the media regulator Supercom, which used the law to target critical coverage (see Legal Environment).
- Social media activity surged to mourn the kidnapping and murder of three members of the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio by dissidents of Colombia’s demobilized FARC guerrilla group (see Digital Activism).
- After the president announced the elimination of Ecuador’s intelligence agency, SENAIN, the government began to outline the conformation of a new entity to replace it. Since its creation, SENAIN had been questioned for spying on politicians, journalists and activists (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).
Ecuador’s internet freedom improved for the first time since 2013, as government-led tactics of online content manipulation and harassment against critics eased under the new administration.
During his first days in office, newly-elected President Lenin Moreno of Alianza Pais gathered newsroom directors and told them to “breathe freely,” in efforts to establish a less confrontational relationship between the government and the media. The National Secretariat of Communication started collaborating with the media by providing information, and state-owned media showed more independence from the ruling party during this first year.
The tension between former president Rafael Correa and President Lenin Moreno intensified following a major corruption scandal that ultimately led to the imprisonment of former vice-president Jorge Glas, a close ally of Correa. The ruling party split into two different movements: Alianza Pais, led by president Moreno and “Revolución Ciudadana” (Citizens’ Revolution), led by his predecessor. This conflict is central to understand the shifts during the past year. For instance, politically-motivated takedowns continued during the coverage period, but were mostly related to public officials that worked with Correa. The government, on the other hand, ceased to systematically abuse copyright infringement notices to censor online content or sanction private media.
The new National Assembly dropped legislative proposals to control social media or regulate data protection in a questionable manner. In March 2018, Moreno announced the replacement of SENAIN, the government’s spying agency, with a new organization for national intelligence said to be more focused on the fight against organized crime and other threats to the state. However, during Moreno’s first year, proposed reforms to existing legislation that led to systematic abuses in the past had yet to fully materialize. Ecuador’s improvement therefore remained cautious, pending meaningful changes in both institutions and legislation.
Ecuador continued its widespread campaigns to improve internet access and digital literacy across the country and recently announced new investments to connect Galapagos, the insular region.
Availability and Ease of Access
Internet access in Ecuador has steadily increased, as internet penetration reached 57.27 percent in 2017.1 Last year, the number of fixed connections increased by 10 percent whereas mobile subscriptions rose by 13 percent.2 The Pacific Caribbean Cable System (PCCS), a high speed fiber-optic cable completed by a consortium of operators in August 2015,3 represents part of a larger advance in infrastructure improvements in Ecuador.4
Multiple internet subscription options are available. Broadband (commonly used in urban zones) and satellite connections (often used in rural areas) have become increasingly popular in recent years. In early 2015, Movistar and Claro reached a deal with the government to access the radio frequency bands to improve 3G connectivity and install 4G services, in exchange for paying over US$ 300 million and improving 3G coverage. This contract, expiring in 2023, is expected to reach more individuals than previous attempts to introduce 4G technology.5 Government data shows that the number of active lines using 4G technology (LTE and HSPA) increased from almost 3.2 million by the end of 2016 to more than 8 million by July 2018.6 América Móvil announced a new US$450 million investment for the next three years.7
While fixed and mobile broadband internet with low download capacity (500 Mb) is affordable for most users, Ecuador had the steepest price in the region for higher download capacity (1 GB) adjusted for purchasing power parity.8 Small internet retailers provide internet access to Ecuadorians for less than US$1 per hour. Although the government eliminated cell phone import quotas for companies,9 mobile phones continued to be taxed as luxury items along with other electronic devices such as computers and tablets.10 It is unclear whether or not this will change in the immediate future. In addition, courier services used for purchases on sites such as Amazon and Alibaba started paying a new import tax on January 2018.11
Socio-economic factors have continued to impact internet access in Ecuador. In 2017, some 46.6 percent of households in urban areas had internet access compared to 16.6 percent in rural areas.12 Digital illiteracy is greater in rural (21.24 percent) rather than urban areas (5.99 percent), and heavily impacts indigenous (29.81 percent) and montubios (18.8 percent) people.13 Public information available is not disaggregated by gender, making it impossible to assess inequalities in this dimension.
Ecuador has shown improvements in expanding internet access to rural areas over the past three years. In October 2017, the government announced plans to connect the insular region of the country to the continent through a 1,280 km submarine cable.14 In March 2017, the Andean Community launched a new satellite to increase the speed of communications in remote areas.15 Ecuador’s state-run Infocentros – community centers with network access that began to be installed in June 2012 – provide free internet in 74 percent of rural cantons in the country.16 Infocentros have played an important role in reducing digital illiteracy17 (from 21.4 percent in 2012 to 10.48 percent in 2017) by offering free workshops across the country.
MINTEL and the Ministry of Education expect to provide full access to all public schools through its National School Connectivity Plan.18 In November 2017, 5,300 schools were already connected.19 The National Secretariat of Higher Education has also taken steps to provide free Wi-Fi in public and private universities.20
Restrictions on Connectivity
Ecuador’s physical infrastructure is not highly centralized. The government does not place limits on bandwidth, nor are there reports of control over infrastructure, although a provision in the 2015 Organic Law of Telecommunications grants the president the power to unilaterally take over telecommunications services in times of national emergency.21 Civil society groups have raised concerns about the scope of this provision and its potential abuse by the government because of its vague standards and lack of oversight by an independent and impartial court.22
Ecuador has seven major internet service providers (ISPs) covering 98.7 percent of users and 379 small ISPs providing access to at least one client. By the end of 2017, there were 47 registered ISPs without clients.
In mid-2018, state-owned National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) continued to dominate the fixed-line market, with 51 percent of subscriptions, followed by Setel (12 percent) and Megadatos (12 percent). The fifth biggest provider, ETAPA, is also a state-owned company. Mobile internet service providers, on the other hand, are an oligopoly: Conecel (Claro) represents 54 percent of active cellular accounts, followed by Otecel (Movistar) and CNT.23
The 2015 Telecommunications Act allowed the government to impose specific requirements on dominant operators with high market power based on their income; and to impose fines depending on the number of users.24 In 2016, a judge reversed an attempt to impose a US$ 82 million fine on to Conecel (Claro) over exclusivity clauses in their contracts.25 In retaliation, the company sued the Superintendent of Market Power Control claiming that he damaged the company's reputation.26
There have been no reported government restrictions for new companies in the ICT sector. However, it has become difficult for small entrepreneurs to start an ISP in highly populated areas, mainly due to the number of competitors. As a result, they have migrated to outlying provinces.27 Registration with ARCOTEL is mandatory for cybercafes.
The Organic Law of Telecommunications passed in 2015 radically changed the regulation of the telecommunications sector. The new telecommunications law created a regulatory body: the Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (Arcotel)–attached to the Ministry of Telecommunications–is responsible for technical aspects of administration, regulation, and control of the telecommunications sector and the radio-electric spectrum.28
Arcotel’s directors are appointed directly by the president, which may undermine the body’s independence.29 Arcotel’s effort to redistribute radio-electric frequencies has notably been criticized for being politicized and lacking transparency.30
Efforts by access providers and other internet-related organizations to establish self-regulatory mechanisms are allowed and, to a certain extent, promoted. Examples of this include the public assistance to develop public and private Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT) by EcuCERT; the local internet exchange point (NAP.ec) managed by AEPROVI, and the Ecuadorian IPv6 Task Force, among others.
The allocation of digital assets, such as domain names or IP addresses, is not controlled by the government, nor are they allocated in a discriminatory manner.
Ecuador’s media regulator, the Superintendency of Information and Communications (Supercom), suffered several drawbacks in 2018. Two different judges determined Supercom acted without judicial arguments and violated due process in two cases against the newspaper El Comercio31 and Teleamazonas;32 superintendent Carlos Ochoa was forced to apologize. Finally, he was removed as superintendent due to diversion of public funds. 33 In May 2018, President Moreno confirmed a proposal to reform the Communication Law to the National Assembly, which would contemplate the elimination of Supercom.34
- 1International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2017,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY
- 2MINTEL, “Indicadores y Estadística,” Retrieved Mar 20, 2018, https://observatoriotic.mintel.gob.ec/estadistica/
- 3Sofía Ramírez, “Un nuevo cable submarino se instala,” [A new undersea cable is installed], El Comercio, Quito, July 14, 2015, http://bit.ly/2dv79sA
- 4Ministerio de Telecomunicaciones y Sociedad de la Información (MINTEL), “Seguimos creciendo en el despliegue de las telecomunicaciones: Ecuador ya cuenta con 59.861 km de fibra óptica,” [The deployment of telecommunications keeps growing: Ecuador already has 59,861 km of fiber optic], January 28, 2016, http://bit.ly/1RQd8of
- 5Mercedes Alvaro, “Ecuador Signs 4G Contracts with America Movil, Telefonica,” The Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2015, http://on.wsj.com/1DsXlo9
- 6Agencia de Regulación y Control de las Telecomunicaciones (ARCOTEL), “Servicio Móvil Avanzado,” [Advanced Mobile Phone System], accessed on September 20, 2018, http://bit.ly/1p7oE2U
- 7“América Móvil anuncia inversión en Ecuador por US$450 millones,” La República, September 26, 2017
- 8María F. Viences & Fernando Callorda, “La brecha digital en América Latina: precio, calidad y asequibilidad de la banda ancha en la región,” [The digital divide in Latin America: price, quality and affordability in the region], Diálogo regional sobre sociedad de la información, January 2016, p. 18, http://bit.ly/1UG7nJP
- 9Sofía Ramírez, “Cupos para importación de celulares ya no rigen en el Ecuador,” [Import quotas for cell phones no longer apply in Ecuador], El Comercio, February 3, 2017, http://bit.ly/2kpz8Jw
- 10Evelyn Jácome, “27,5% de impuestos se pagará por cada celular que llegue vía courier,” [27.5% of taxes will be paid for each cell phone brought via courier], El Comercio, January 7, 2016, http://bit.ly/1kSketI
- 11Evelyn Tapia, “Las compras vía courier pagarán nueva tasa desde el 1 de enero en Ecuador,” El Comercio, Nov 9, 2017, http://bit.ly/2yqju70
- 12MINTEL, “Indicadores y Estadística,” Retrieved March 20, 2018, https://observatoriotic.mintel.gob.ec/estadistica/
- 14“Gobierno proveerá de fibra óptica a Galápagos,” El Telégrafo, October 29, 2017, http://bit.ly/2FkehRr
- 15Agencia EFE, “Comunidad Andina lanza satélite de comunicaciones con alcance para América Latina,” [Andean Community launches communications satellite to reach Latin America], El Comercio, March 30, 2017. http://bit.ly/2op7SwT
- 16There are 854 Infocentros with 12 million visits since they were first implemented in 2010. See: Ministerio de Telecomunicaciones y Sociedad de la Información, “Infocentros comunitarios,” [Community infocenters], accessed November 10, 2017, http://bit.ly/1iPMYxq Total number of parishes can be found at https://observatoriotic.mintel.gob.ec/estadistica
- 17Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos, “El analfabetismo digital en Ecuador se reduce en 10 puntos desde el 2012, [Digital illiteracy in Ecuador has reduced 10 points since 2012], January 27, 2017, http://bit.ly/2kcMZmz
- 18Ministerio de Telecomunicaciones y Sociedad de la Información, “Conectividad escolar,” [Scholar connectivity], accessed March 4, 2016, http://bit.ly/1OVJDKB
- 19Andrés Durán, “Conectar por internet a 7.800 establecimientos educativos es la meta de la Agenda Educativa Digital,” El Ciudadano, Nov 24, 2017, http://bit.ly/2oNdXV8
- 20“El Código Ingenios propone redes gratuitas de internet en las universidades,” [The Ingenios Act proposes free internet network in universities], El Telégrafo, January 10, 2016, http://bit.ly/1PnG94e
- 21Asamblea Nacional República del Ecuador, Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones [Telecommunication Law], http://bit.ly/2fsPlKj
- 22Katitza Rodriguez, “Leaked Documents Confirm Ecuador’s Internet Censorship Machine,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 14, 2016, http://bit.ly/1W144NE
- 23Agencia de Regulación y Control de las Telecomunicaciones, “Servicio de Acceso a Internet,” [Internet Access Service], accessed September 2018, http://bit.ly/1qcC7Xs
- 24América Móvil, “Annual Report,” December 31, 2104, http://bit.ly/1pqOpeL
- 25Sofía Ramírez, “Multa por USD 82,7 millones para Claro,” [Claro fined with USD 82.7 millions], El Comercio, August 30, 2016, http://bit.ly/2cawovo; See also: http://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/negocios/multa-de-usd-38-millones…
- 26Sofía Ramírez, “Pedro Páez enfrenta un proceso penal planteado por Claro,” [Pedro Páez faces criminal proceedings from Claro], El Comercio, January 31, 2017, http://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/negocios-pedropaez-procesopenal-cl…
- 27Rodrigo Barahona, Former Internet Service Provider, Interview March 14, 2016
- 28Asamblea Nacional República del Ecuador, Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones [Telecommunication Law], http://bit.ly/1Kvdp7W
- 29Leticia Pautasio, “Ecuador: Ley de Telecomunicaciones entra en vigencia y Arcotel inicia sus funciones,” [Ecuador: Telecommunications Law enters into force and Arcotel starts its functions], TeleSemana.com, March 6, 2015, http://bit.ly/22lJayl
- 30Fundamedios, “Arcotel permanently removes independent journalists association’s frequency,” December 12, 2015, http://bit.ly/1PcWbxg; Plan V, “La Arcotel y los riesgos de la redistribución de frecuencias,” [Arcotel and the risks of frequency redistribution], February 22, 2016, http://bit.ly/1WFXJW1; https://www.andes.info.ec/es/noticias/politica/3/tres-grupos-monopoliza…
- 31“Carlos Ochoa debe disculparse con diario EL COMERCIO por imponer una rectificación sin fundamentos,” El Comercio, December 29, 2017, bit.ly/OchoaEC
- 32Mario González, “Jueza ordena que Carlos Ochoa se disculpe con Teleamazonas,” El Comercio, Dec. 27, 2017, http://bit.ly/2BNtsRC
- 33Diego Puente, “CAL calificó juicio político contra superintendente Carlos Ochoa,” El Comercio, Feb 5, 2018, http://bit.ly/2FeyNar
- 34“Medios digitales plantean reformas a Ley de Comunicación,” El Universo, May 28, 2018, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2018/05/28/nota/6782069/medios-digi…
The online sphere has gained prominence as a forum for political and social discussion in Ecuador. Former President Rafael Correa’s government sought to exert control over content through a variety of mechanisms, through online manipulation and the use of copyright law to censor critical content. Under the administration of Lenin Moreno, these government-led tactics have become less prominent.
Blocking and Filtering
The government does not engage in systematic blocking or filtering of content in Ecuador. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and blog-hosting services are freely available. There were no reports of the government blocking tools enabling circumvention of online filters and censors.
Reports have pointed to past instances of blocking of specific domains. An allegedly leaked internal memorandum from Telefónica (Movistar) noted an instance in 2014 when the Ecuadorian Association of Internet Providers (AEPROVI), which controls over 95 percent of the country’s internet traffic, blocked access to specific domains at the government’s request.1 Public documentation from SUPERTEL (now ARCOTEL) showed that the government and private ISPs have collaborated in the past to block specific domains to combat piracy,2 and that AEPROVI maintained a cooperation agreement with ARCOTEL since 2012.3 The text of the agreement remains unknown to the public; the mechanisms used by ARCOTEL and AEPROVI to block internet domains are unclear. Likewise, mechanisms for public accountability are not in place or have not been disclosed.
Content removals continued to be reported during this coverage period, but became less prominent as a government mechanism to silence sensitive content online.4 Under former President Rafael Correa’s rule, copyright law was frequently used to censor critical online content. 5 Since Lenin Moreno became president, public institutions have ceased to file such removal requests. While the new government has showed a friendlier attitude towards online activity, repressive mechanisms are still in place and leave room for future abuse.
Press freedom group Fundamedios documented removals and account suspensions on social media during this period of coverage. Many of these cases involved discussions related to officials from the previous government, although some also worked for the current government briefly. Reported removals or suspensions on Twitter related to posts about Orlando Pérez (former editor of state-funded newspaper El Telégrafo),6 Guillaume Long (former chancellor),7 Carlos Ochoa (Superintendent of Communications),8 and Fernando and Vinicio Alvarado (Ministers and close collaborators of Rafael Correa).9 The deletion of content older than a year suggeststhe use of specialized services.10
According to Twitter’s transparency report, the company received 4 removal requests by government agencies in the last half of 2017, compared to 3 in the previous period, though no content was withheld as a result.11 During the same period, there were 18 government takedown requests to Google, 16 of them for defamation and 2 for copyright.12 Fundamedios also reported that Facebook deleted several pictures uploaded by whistleblower organization Ecuador Transparente based on the network’s terms of service. Their post showed e-mails in which former government officials attempted to interfere in several judicial cases between 2010 and 2013.13
In December 2016, the National Assembly approved the Organic Code on Social Economy of Knowledge, Creativity and Innovation. Article 565 allows the state agency, Ecuadorian Institute of Intellectual Property, to order both authors and intermediaries to “suspend” infringing content on digital media.14 Given the Ecuadorian government’s indiscriminate use of copyright law to censor online content in the past, digital rights activists raised concerns that this provision could increase the government’s ability to submit takedown requests or blocking orders against online content that allegedly violates intellectual property.15
Additionally, article 19 of the Communication Law has been used to hold websites liable for content posted on their sites by third parties unless such parties are identifiable through personal data such as their national ID number.16 News outlets that have allowed readers to post comments critical of the government on their websites have faced removal requests, and others have closed their comments section entirely.
Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation
While diverse media outlets have emerged and thrived online in Ecuador,17 broad restrictions on media outlets have encouraged self-censorship and curtailed financial resources for independent media. However, a more open approach to media has provided some relief under President Moreno, who has pledged to reform the repressive Communications Law passed in 2013.
In May 2018, the executive submitted a proposal for major reforms to the Communications Law, and the National Assembly continued to debate possible changes, which includes eliminating the powerful media and communications regulator. Supercom had aggressively pursued print media (including all media with an online presence) under accusations of unbalanced reporting and “media lynching”—an allegation that was often applied to investigative reporting in Ecuador.
As a result of these restrictions, mainstream media outlets such as El Comercio, El Universo or Expreso had lawyers reviewing “sensitive” notes before publication. Cases of corruption and investigative journalism were covered with extreme caution. However, a journalist who requested anonymity admitted that attitudes have shifted under President Moreno’s government: journalists consult with lawyers less frequently before posting sensitive information, authorities have stopped imposing fines, and government institutions have become more transparent.18
Some journalists have noted that while there is more space to openly criticize the former administration, some self-censorship remains. Martina Vera, who worked at Teleamazonas until 2017, asserted that journalists have taken advantage of more space for free expression to talk about the previous government, but not to comment on the current one. “Criticizing the president,” she said, “is perceived as an endorsement of [Correa], who was a nefarious person for freedom of the press.”19
Past reports on state-sponsored troll farms in Ecuador revealed efforts to skew public opinion in favor of Correa’s government.20 According to Catalina Botero, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, investigations identified troll IP addresses in government offices.21 Journalist Martin Pallares pointed out that troll accounts cheered for Rafael Correa and his supporters after Moreno’s election.22 The Secretariat of Communication also denounced that institutional Twitter and Facebook accounts created by the former government such as “Enlace Ciudadano” (Citizen’s Link) were used to disseminate information that was not authorized by the current administration.23
There is a general mandate to protect Net Neutrality in both the Culture Act (Article 5) and the Telecommunications Act (Article 3, Article 4 and 66). However, Article 64 allows ISPs to establish “tariff plans consisting of one or more services, or for one or more products of a service, in accordance with his or her authorization certificates.” The rulebook for the Telecommunications Act reaffirmed that the only limitation for tariff plans was the requirement for ISPs to clearly state the limitations of “any discounts, promotions or bonuses for purchasing services.”24
Social media continued to be a dynamic tool for organization in Ecuador. Two different reports by undergraduate students looked at online activism campaigns in Ecuador; in both cases, the study focused on feminist groups—Marcha de las Putas Ecuador and Movimiento de Mujeres de El Oro—and found positive outcomes overall, where recruiting and participation increased.25 Politicians facing corruption allegations have resigned during the coverage period but there is not enough research to associate social media pressure with such happenings.
In March 2018, Javier Ortega, Efraín Segarra and Paúl Rivas, members of the journalistic team of El Comercio, were kidnapped by combatants who previously were members of FARC guerrilla group (now demobilized). This event, which ultimately led to their assassination, caused huge public outcry across the country. For days, people would gather first to demand their return and later to mourn their deaths: #NosFaltan3 (“We are missing 3”) trended in the country for almost an entire month.26
Violations of User Rights
During President Moreno’s first year, promised reforms to existing legislation that led to systematic abuses in the past had yet to fully materialize. The country faces several threats to free expression, including criminal provisions against libel, government regulation and oversight of media content, and concerns about judicial independence. However, harassment and threats against government critics on social media eased during the coverage period.
A lack of legislation specifically targeting online speech has allowed journalists and bloggers to enjoy relatively higher levels of freedom online than offline. Ecuador’s Constitution guarantees “universal access to information technologies and communication” (Article 16.2), and confers the ability to exercise one’s right to communication, information, and freedom of expression (Article 384). The latter, however, was amended by the National Assembly in December 2015 to include the mandate that “communication as a public service will be provided through public, private and community media” (emphasis added). The move to categorize communication as a public service has especially raised criticism for undermining freedom of expression as a human right and opening the way for broad government regulation of media outlets.27 Although Article 71 of the Organic Law of Communication, adopted in 2013, already included similar wording on communication as a public service, the constitutional amendment cemented this principle.28
In a promising move, the executive announced reforms to the repressive 2013 Communication Law in mid-March 2018,29 and presented them to the National Assembly in May.30 The Communication Law calls for the establishment of a government committee to regulate media and issue civil and criminal penalties to journalists or media outlets that fail to report in a manner that the regulator deems fair and accurate. Although Article 4 states that the law “does not regulate information or opinions expressed by individuals on the internet,” the definition of social media outlets in Article 5 includes “content which can be generated or replicated by media outlets on the internet.” Follow-up legislation in 2014 exempted bloggers and social media users from regulation under the Communications Law, but expanded the definition of “mass media” to include “those [websites] that operate on the internet, whose legal status has been obtained in Ecuador and distribute news and opinion content.”31
Changes to the penal code that entered into force in August 2014 eliminated criminal charges for insult, but retained them for slander and libel.32 Article 179 restricts protections for whistleblowers by establishing a prison sentence of six months to one year for any person “who, by virtue of his/her state or office, employment, profession, or art, has knowledge of a secret whose divulgement might cause harm to another and reveals it.” The article makes no exception for revealing information in the public interest. Article 229 places further restrictions on divulging information by banning the revelation of registered information, databases, or archives through electronic systems in a way that violates the intimacy or privacy of someone else, with no exceptions for whistleblowers or journalists. Article 307 establishes a penalty of five to seven years in prison for creating economic panic by “publishing, spreading, or divulging false news that causes harm to the national economy in order to alter the prices of goods.”
In July 2016, Ecuador voted against the UN Human Rights Council resolution on the protection of human rights on the internet.33 Former president Rafael Correa introduced a new bill on his last day in office to regulate “hate speech and discrimination on social media and the internet” targeting both content and service providers,34 However it is very unlikely for such bill to be approved given the adversarial relationship between Correa and the current government.
The lack of judicial independence is another ongoing concern, Ecuador ranked 135 out of 137 in the World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey.35
Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities
Lawsuits have threatened social media users and online journalists in recent years.
A handful of individuals were prosecuted during this period of coverage for disseminating information on the internet, although judges ruled in favor of journalists in two major cases:
- In February 2018, Fernando Villavicencio, the director of the news website Focus Ecuador, was found not guilty.36 He had filed for political asylum in Peru after facing charges for publishing private documents from senior government officials in an article he wrote in 2013 for the Plan V online magazine.37 Villavicencio’s lawyer has defended that the publication, which concerned the government’s legal battle with U.S. company Chevron, was in the public interest.
- In June 2017, former President Rafael Correa sued journalist Martín Pallares of the website 4Pelagatos in response to a satirical article he wrote which allegedly contained "expressions in disparagement and dishonor."38 Pallares was found not guilty in July 2017.39
A number of prosecutions have referred to Article 396 of the Criminal Code, which punishes “expressions that discredit or dishonor” and provides for a prison sentence of 15 to 30 days. In September 2017, a judge ordered 20 days of prison and a fine of US$ 90 against a citizen, after ruling that his Facebook posts affected the honor and reputation of a public servant.40 In November, Fundamedios reported that the arrest warrant against him had expired after 48 days and his prison term was not carried out.41
Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity
After the election of Lenin Moreno, several civil society organizations requested to eliminate the National Secretariat of Intelligence, SENAIN.42 Days after the president discovered a hidden surveillance camera left by Correa operating in the presidential office,43 he announced “adjustments.”44 In January 2018, the comptroller's office announced they will analyse SENAIN reserved expenses between 2012 and 2017.45 The next month, Rommy Vallejo, who led the institution for years, resigned.46 Finally, in March, the president announced the elimination of SENAIN in response to “citizens’ ethical demands.”47 Weeks later, Moreno clarified the issue: A “Coordinating Unit of Public Security,” under the direct control of the Presidency, will replace SENAIN.48 During the coverage period of this report, it was still unclear how this change would impact on the intelligence unit budget, mission, and oversight.
SENAIN was in charge of producing “strategic SIGINT [signals intelligence] for the integral security of the state, society and democracy.” Created in 2009 by a presidential decree, SENAIN continuously expanded its capacities until 2017. Most of the budget was allocated to “special expenses for communications and counterintelligence.”49
Evidence has mounted that Ecuador’s government engaged in surveillance of a wide range of individuals, as leaked documents have exposed illegal spying on politicians, journalists and activists.50 In July 2015, Italian spyware company Hacking Team was compromised and their financial and commercial transactions exposed. In March 2018, La Posta published public contracts showing the transaction between SENAIN and Hacking Team,51 confirming what previously leaked documents suggested.52 According to a technical analysis by “ilv”, a Tor Project developer, the government targeted judges, members of the national electoral council, political parties and political movements.53 Ecuador Transparente also made public 31 secret documents from SENAIN corresponding to intelligence gathered between 2012 and 2014. Among the targets were politicians, environmentalists, cartoonists, and journalists.54
There have also been several indications of government monitoring of blogs, social media and websites. The contract between Emerging MC and SENAIN, made public by Buzzfeed in 2015, required the company to “predict, anticipate and eliminate” material on social media.55 In previous reports from 2013, “marketing company” Illuminati Lab displayed monitoring of Ecuadorian social media as a success story of their company.56 In April 2016, SENAIN published a press release threatening legal action in light of “unfounded publications made by (…) some Twitter users” related to the Panama Papers leak.57
SENAIN also made use of information gathered by public agencies and stored in the government platform www.datoseguro.gob.ec. This website, administered by the National Directorate of Public Data Registry, claims that their data is encrypted in transit and on its servers.58 Public entities, the Registry included, are legally obliged to provide any information required by SENAIN as long as this request has been communicated to the president.59
Under the rules of the telecommunications law, ISPs are obliged by ARCOTEL to “provide technical, economic, financial, legal documents, and in general, any form or request for information” and to “allow inspections to facilities and systems.”60 Finally, the Subsystem for Interception of Communications or Computer Data (SICOM) of the General Attorney requested Hacking Team’s assistance to build a country-wide monitoring center to access PCs, laptops, cellphones and tablets.61 The system currently allows interception of voice calls and text messages (SMS) of criminal suspects.62 Content intercepted during internet surveillance is admissible in court and can be used to convict criminals under Articles 476 and 528 of the Criminal Code.
Neither anonymous nor encrypted communications are prohibited in Ecuador. Registration of cell phones and SIM cards, however, is mandatory for every citizen.63 News sites are also required to prove the identity of commentators, or are otherwise liable for the latter’s wrongdoing. ISPs are required to submit the IP addresses of their clients without a judicial order on request by Arcotel.64 Finally, mobile operators were required to implement technology that would automatically provide the physical location of cellphone users for emergency purposes, within an accuracy range of 50 meters.65
In February 2018, ARCOTEL submitted a draft for the “technical standard for the registration of subscribers or customers of telecommunications services and broadcasting services by subscription” for consultations; such a draft requires ISPs to keep an updated registry of all their subscribers and store that information for at least 5 years.66 The lack of registration results in refusal of service. Without clear mechanisms nor transparency about the criteria for the use of personal data, the impact of such a rule raised concerns.
Intimidation and Violence
Intimidation against reporters and social media influencers eased during the coverage period, and there were no reports of physical attacks against ICT users. However, corruption allegations against the former government triggered death threats against journalists Janeth Hinostroza,67 Andersson Boscán,68 and Fernando Villavicencio.69 Even after the end of his presidency, Correa continued to encourage his followers to find and release personal information about users who criticized him.70
Two incidents also showed how online harassment can escalate to physical harassment. Gabriel Gonzalez, the administrator of the satirical page @CrudoEcuador, received online messages hinting that his wife’s car was being followed.71 Human rights defender Juan Pablo Albán, who was defending a man for racist aggression within the military, was insulted and harassed via a Facebook page called “Soldados de honor” (Soldiers of honor). He also had messages slipped under his door warning him that his life was in danger.72
According to Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report, Ecuador is among the top 3 countries in the region where users have a higher risk of identity theft, and other cyber threats.73 Hacking and denial-of-service attacks have frequently targeted digital media.
Several attacks against media and non-governmental organizations were reported during the past year:
- In August 2017, Fundamedios was victim of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack and code insertions which redirected their users to malicious websites.74
- The following month, digital outlet Ecuador en Vivo suffered a DDoS and DNS attack affecting its database. As a result of the attacks the website was unable to post new content for several hours.75
- In February 2018, following the publication of a news article reporting on the mismanagement of public funds, milhojas.is suffered hacking attempts against its social media accounts.76
In December 2015, Citizen Lab revealed an analysis of a series of malware attacks in Ecuador and other countries. Targets included high-profile journalists, civil society organizations, activists and politicians.77
The Counter-Intelligence and Strategic Technological Operations Center of SENAIN handles the technical aspects of the country’s cybersecurity, and EcuCERT, has been in operation since 2014.78 In early 2016, Ecuadorian police created a special unit to deal with cybercrime with a team of 200 agents working in research and intelligence.79
- 1Apertura Radical, “El gobierno ecuatoriano y la Asociación de Proveedores de Internet trabajan juntos para bloquear el acceso a páginas web,” [The Ecuadorian government and the Ecuadorian Association of Internet Providers (AEPROVI) collaborate to block access to specific websites], http://wp.me/p3jTIV-8t
- 2Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, “Informe rendición de cuentas 2014,” p.64, [2014 Supertel Report], January 13, 2015, http://bit.ly/22ufifv
- 3Convergencia Latina, “La SUPERTEL firmará hoy un convenio de cooperación con la asociación de ISPs” [SUPERTEL will sign cooperation agreement today with ISP association], April 17, 2012, http://bit.ly/1XNlCxV
- 4Press freedom group Fundamedios documents abuses against digital rights. See: Fundamedios, “Alertas,” accessed March 1, 2018, http://bit.ly/2oyCBbU
- 5Maira Sutton, “State Censorship by Copyright? Spanish Firm Abuses DMCA to Silence Critics of Ecuador's Government,” EFF, May 15, 2014, http://bit.ly/1lKGvUY; See also: Alexandra Ellerbeck, “How U.S. copyright law is being used to take down Correa's critics in Ecuador,” Committee to Protect Journalists, January 21, 2016, http://bit.ly/1Lu5Uoj
- 6Fundamedios, “Fundamedios condena censura de Twitter tras suspensión de cuenta de Crudo Ecuador,” August 4, 2017, http://bit.ly/2vDrZMT
- 7“Twitter bloquea cinco cuentas críticas con el gobierno,” July 31, 2017, http://bit.ly/2wcw2OK
- 8Fundamedios, “Twitter bloquea una nueva cuenta crítica con funcionarios correísta,” February 14, 2018, http://bit.ly/2EFhy0V
- 9Fundamedios, “Intentos de hackeo y suspensión de cuentas en Twitter tras divulgar investigación de corrupción,” February 2, 2018, http://bit.ly/2DUWeRb
- 10An interviewee who requested anonymity mentioned the use of eliminalia.com. Online interview, February 16, 2018.
- 11Twitter, Transparency Report, Ecuador, July-December 2017, https://transparency.twitter.com/en/countries/ec.html
- 12Google Transparency Report, Ecuador, July-December 2017, https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country
- 13Fundamedios, “Facebook censura publicación sobre correos que demuestran injerencia del Gobierno en la justicia ecuatoriana,” January 11, 2018, http://bit.ly/2GRyOgP
- 14Asamblea Nacional República del Ecuador, “Ley de Propiedad Intelectual: Código Orgánico de la economía social de los conocimientos, creatividad e innovación,” [Intellectual Property Law], http://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/es/ec/ec075es.pdf
- 15“Gobierno podría dar de baja contenido digital basado en Código de Ingenios,” Ciudadania Informada, February 7, 2017, http://bit.ly/2i1SAMo
- 16Silvia Higuera, “Government of Ecuador asks paper to ‘filter’ reader comments,” Journalism in the Americas Blog, Knight Center, January 30, 2013, http://bit.ly/1LIka6k
- 17Only two months of activity the website 4pelagatos.com, which is operated by journalists Roberto Aguilar, Martin Pallares, José Hernández and social media specialist Juan Gabriel Gonzalez, best known as CrudoEcuador, received nearly two million visits from more than half a million unique users. See: 4Pelagatos, “Gracias a nuestros lectores,” [Thank you to our readers], March 20, 2016, http://bit.ly/21CuAN2
- 18Online interview, March 5, 2018.
- 19Martina Vera, online interview, March 5, 2018.
- 20Fundación 1000 hojas, “Troll center: derroche y acoso desde las redes sociales” [Troll center: waste and harassment on social media], http://bit.ly/1xwV6yx; See also: Samuel Woolley, “#HackingTeam Leaks: Ecuador is Spending Millions on Malware, Pro-Government Trolls”, August 4, 2015, http://bit.ly/2cUSYMl
- 21“Catalina Botero compara acciones de Bukele con Correa en Ecuador,” La Prensa Gráfica, February 19, 2016, http://bit.ly/1pVJfaX
- 22Martín Pallares, “En esta guerra el troll center está con los correístas,” 4 Pelagatos, June 10, 2017, http://bit.ly/2rLZ7QE
- 23Fundamedios, “Secom denuncia suplantación de administración de cuentas en redes sociales,” August 7, 2017, http://bit.ly/2vfx8sW; https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/secom-enlaceciudadano-jorgeglas-l…
- 24Andrés Delgado, “The Final Blow to Net Neutrality in Ecuador,” January 3, 2016, http://bit.ly/1Pheecy
- 25Sandra Albuja, "Nuevas formas de comunicación digital con los públicos: manejo de la conversación 2.0. caso fan page oficial Marcha de las Putas Ecuador (Bachelor's thesis, Quito: UCE)", 2017, http://bit.ly/2Fd7PQg & Gabriela Moreira, "Desarrollo de un medio digital para contribuir a la difusión de contenidos del movimiento de mujeres de El Oro (Bachelor's thesis, Machala: UTM)," 2017, http://bit.ly/2H7GThm
- 26Kimberley Brown, “Three journalists are kidnapped in Ecuador, signaling the violence spilling over from Colombia,” The Washington Post, April 3 2018, https://wapo.st/2rplGKi
- 27Silvia Higuera, “Ecuador declares communication ‘a public service’; Fundamedios considers it a ‘serious setback’,” Journalism in the Americas, December 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OS1mWp; See also: Fundamedios, “Assembly approves amendment to constitution that makes communication a public service,” December 2, 2015, http://bit.ly/1NtiDpz; John Otis, “How Ecuador's plans to make communications a public service is threat to free press,” Committee to Protect Journalists (blog), January 20, 2015, http://bit.ly/1PEHiKg
- 28Asamblea Nacional, Ley Orgánica de Comunicación [Organic Law of Communication], June 25, 2013, http://bit.ly/1pgZrCC
- 29CPJ, “Ecaudor pledges to reform repressive media law,” Mar 16, 2018, https://cpj.org/x/71b3
- 30“Propuesta de reformas a la Ley de Comunicación elimina el linchamiento mediático,” El Universo, May 21, 2018, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2018/05/21/nota/6771416/nueva-propu…
- 31Decree 214, Art. 3, January 27, 2014, http://bit.ly/208xLfH; See also: Alianza Regional, “Artículo XIII: Informe sobre control estatal de las redes sociales,” [Article XIII: Report on state control of social networks], May 2016, http://bit.ly/1rQZOWx
- 32Ministerio de Justicia, Derechos Humanos y Cultos, Código Orgánico Integral Penal, 2014, http://bit.ly/1juCXok
- 33Article 19, “UNHRC: Significant resolution reaffirming human rights online adopted,” July 1, 2016, http://bit.ly/298I0NS
- 34Mario González, “Proyecto de Ley para controlar redes sociales e Internet fue enviado por Correa a la Asamblea el 23 de mayo,” [Law proposal to control social media and the internet was submitted by Correa on May 23], El Comercio, May 25, 2017, http://bit.ly/2hkNmL2
- 35World Economic Forum, “Executive Opinion Survey,” Oct 18, 2017, http://bit.ly/2HayidQ
- 36“Jiménez y Villavicencio declarados inocentes en caso impulsado desde el régimen de Correa,” El Comercio, February 22, 2018, http://bit.ly/2osS9gA
- 37“Journalist facing charges in Ecuador files for asylum in Peru,” Committee to Protect Journalists, April 18, 2017, http://bit.ly/2AsfWla
- 38Hernandez, Jose, “Rafael Correa demanda al pelagato Pallares,” Cuatro4pPelagatos, June 21, 2017, http://bit.ly/2rYNQtb
- 39Higuera, Silvia, “Ecuadorian judge determines that journalist Martín Pallares is not guilty in case filed by Rafael Correa,” Journalism in the Americas, April 4, 2017, http://bit.ly/2yQfQHS
- 40Usuarios Digitales, “#AlertaDigitalEC Usuario es sentenciado a 20 días de prisión por publicación en Facebook en contra de funcionaria pública,” November 28, 2017, http://www.usuariosdigitales.org/2017/11/28/alertadigitalec-usuario-sen…
- 41Fundamedios, “Se registra sentencia de 20 días de prisión contra ciudadano por insultos en redes sociales contra funcionaria,” September 8, 2017, http://www.fundamedios.org/alertas/se-registra-sentencia-20-dias-prisio…
- 42Andrés García, “Organizaciones sociales pedirán a Lenín Moreno que se elimine la Senain,” El Comercio, September 25, 2017, http://bit.ly/2oMVfx2
- 43Gonzalo Solano, “Ecuador president accuses predecessor of planting spy camera,” Chicago Tribune, September 17, 2017, http://trib.in/2xmL3A0
- 44Gabriela Coba, “Lenín Moreno anuncia ‘ajustes’ en la Secretaría de Inteligencia y reconoce período sombrío de propaganda,” El Comercio, October 4, 2017, http://bit.ly/2nNjz3Z
- 45“Fiscal Moreno recopila indicios dentro de la indagación a Baca Mancheno,” El Comercio, January 20, 2018, http://bit.ly/2EZqJWp
- 46Dimitri Barreto & Fernando Medina, “Rommy Vallejo queda fuera de la Senain; Jorge Costa es el nuevo titular de la Secretaría de Inteligencia,” El Comercio, February 21, 2018, http://bit.ly/2EJiyBQ
- 47“Ecuadorian President announces elimination of National Intelligence Secretariat,” Andes, March 19, 2018,
- 48“Unidad Coordinadora de Inteligencia reemplazará a la Senain,” La Hora, April 20, 2018, https://bit.ly/2HZ69ew
- 49Secretaría Nacional de Inteligencia, “Programación Anual de la Política Pública,” [Annual Program for Public Policy], February 11, 2015, http://bit.ly/1pQ7SG2
- 50Roberto Aguilar, "La policía política de la Senain vigila a civiles y grupos sociales," Expreso, September 20, 2017, http://bit.ly/2xhU6ke
- 51Andersson Boscán, “Hacking Team existe y Correa le mintió al país,” March 19, 2018, http://bit.ly/2Gdtt6C
- 52Andreína Laines, “Lourdes Tibán asegura que sí existió relación entre la Senain y Hacking Team,” [Lourdes Tibán assures that there is a relation between Senain and Hacking Team], Ecuavisa, July 30, 2015, http://bit.ly/1UlK2y8; Rebeca Morla, “Ecuadorian Websites Report on Hacking Team, Get Taken Down,” PanamPost, July 13, 2015, http://bit.ly/1oebLCI; Associated Press, “APNewsBreak: Leaked Hacking Team emails suggest Ecuador illegally spied on opposition,” Fox Business, August 6, 2015, http://fxn.ws/1Rmaa9M
- 53Ilv, “Hacking Team, Chile & Ecuador,” July 11, 2015, http://bit.ly/1PxVA9x
- 54Associated Whistleblowing Press, “Ecuadorian intelligence agency spied systematically on politicians and activists,” August 4, 2015, http://bit.ly/1MsYGRI
- 55James Ball & Paul Hamilos, “Ecuador’s President Used Millions Of Dollars Of Public Funds To Censor Critical Online Videos,” BuzzFeed, September 24, 2015, http://bzfd.it/1Lu6kee
- 56Mónica Almeida, “Illuminati destaca como su ‘caso de éxito’ a campaña de Rafael Correa en redes,” [Illuminati highlights as “success case” their Rafael Correa campaign in networks], December 10, 2013, http://bit.ly/1iu99pX
- 57Secretaría Nacional de Inteligencia, “Comunicado de Prensa,” [Press Release], April 4, 2016, http://bit.ly/1TP9NYp
- 58Dirección Nacional de Registro de Datos Públicos, “Preguntas Frecuentes,” [FAQ], March 26, 2016, http://bit.ly/1pDBXrr
- 59Law of Public and State Security, Article 17.
- 60Presidencia de la República del Ecuador, Executive Decree 864, January 25, 2016, http://bit.ly/25rkkvZ
- 61Plan V, “Los secretos del nuevo Proyecto Galileo,” [The secrets of the new Galileo Project], July 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/22FDFKW
- 62Fiscalía General del Estado, “La interceptación de llamadas se hace solo bajo la autorización de un juez,” [Call interception is done only under the authorization of a judge], July 21, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Mu8c70
- 63Derechos Digitales, “Freedom of Expression, Encryption and Anonymity, Civil Society and Private Sector Perceptions,” May 21, 2015, http://bit.ly/1UvKTN4
- 64See Article 29.9, ARCOTEL, “Reglamento para abonados de los servicios de telecomunicaciones y valor agregado,” [Telecommunication Service Subscribers and Added Value Regulation], July 20, 2012, http://bit.ly/25rl1W4
- 65Servicio Integrado de Seguridad ECU 911, “Informe de Gestión Anual 2015,” [Annual Report 2015], February 19, 2016, http://bit.ly/1MuS6Kp, and Ecu 911, “Geolocalización,” [Geolocation], http://bit.ly/2e3vfsH
- 66ARCOTEL, “"NORMA TÉCNICA PARA EL EMPADRONAMIENTO DE ABONADOS, SUSCRIPTORES O CLIENTES DE SERVICIOS DE TELECOMUNICACIONES Y SERVICIOS DE RADIODIFUSIÓN POR SUSCRIPCIÓN [Draft]",” N.D., http://bit.ly/2He5eSD
- 67Fundamedios, “Periodista es amenazada de muerte tras discusión con exfuncionario,” October 18, 2017, http://bit.ly/2x5Htrp
- 68Fundamedios, “Periodista es amenazado por Twitter tras publicar información que involucra al Ministro del Interior,” January 8, 2018, http://bit.ly/2m6dwmO; “Periodista es amenazado de muerte en Twitter,” August 15 , 2017, http://bit.ly/2w983Tn
- 69Fundamedios, “Periodista exiliado es amenazado de muerte vía Twitter,” [Exiled journalist threatened with death via Twitter], June 6, 2017, http://bit.ly/2s11qjh
- 70Fundamedios, “ExPresidente pide a sus seguidores exponer datos personales de críticos,” June 19, 2017 http://bit.ly/2tlwYid
- 71Fundamedios, “Crudo Ecuador es advertido con nuevos seguimientos a su familia,” August 28, 2017, http://bit.ly/2wY9V15
- 72Fundamedios, “Defensor de DDHH es amenazado y hostigado por redes sociales,” July 20, 2017, http://www.fundamedios.org/alertas/defensor-ddhh-amenazado-hostigado-re…
- 73EFE, “Venezuela, Bolivia y Ecuador, los más amenazados en Internet, según Microsoft,” El Comercio, August 2017, http://bit.ly/2oX4lGE
- 74Fundamedios, “Portal de Fundamedios sufre ataques cibernéticos desde diferentes partes del mundo,” August 15, 2017, http://bit.ly/2D5xSTL
- 75Fundamedios, “Portal de noticias es víctima de masivos ataques informáticos,” September 23, 2017, http://bit.ly/2hxCOYJ
- 76Usuarios Digitales, “#AlertaDigitalEC @fmilhojas, cuenta del medio digital Fundación Mil Hojas, denuncia intentos de hackeo,” February 2, 2018, http://bit.ly/2oWMZtF
- 77John Scott-Railton, Morgan Marquis-Boire, Claudio Guarnieri, and Marion Marschalek, “Packrat: Seven Years of a South American Threat Actor,” Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, December 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/1U3dFkI
- 78Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); Organization of American States, “Cybersecurity: Are We Ready in Latin America and the Caribbean?” March 2016, http://bit.ly/1qatSLC
- 79ANDES, “Ecuador crea unidad especial para enfrentar ciberdelitos,” [Ecuador creates special unity against cybercrime], February 3, 2016, http://bit.ly/1MM284J
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score70 100 free
Internet Freedom Score64 100 partly free