In a reversal from last year, Ecuador’s internet freedom declined as mass protests were met by disruptions to fixed and mobile connectivity, as well as to social media platforms. Former president Rafael Correa and his supporters orchestrated coordinated disinformation campaigns around the COVID-19 pandemic, while the current government announced several technological initiatives to respond to the virus that have threatened users’ privacy.
President Lenin Moreno’s administration, which came to power in May 2017, has taken steps to strengthen democratic governance and remove restrictions on civil society and press freedom, in a move away from repressive policies espoused by his predecessor Rafael Correa. A deepening feud between Correa and Moreno resulted in the ruling party splitting into two different movements: Alianza PAIS, led by President Moreno and “Revolución Ciudadana” (Citizens’ Revolution), led by his predecessor. Massive countrywide demonstrations in 2019 against austerity measures, led by indigenous movements, transportation workers’ unions, and students, prompted a harsh crackdown.
- Mass protests in October in response to planned austerity measures were accompanied by disruptions to mobile and fixed connectivity, and to the ability to share multimedia content through Facebook and WhatsApp (see A3, B1, and B8).
- Citing copyright infringement, the government requested several news sites be removed by their hosting companies. Similar government requests asked tech companies to take down social media content or suspend accounts (see B2).
- Former president Correa and his supporters reportedly conducted at least 13 coordinated disinformation campaigns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Manipulated information also proliferated during the October protests, including by Correa supporters and the government (see B5).
- In April, social media users who had posted criticism of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic were briefly arrested. The case of a Swedish programmer and activist, who was arrested in April 2019, remained in preliminary hearings (see C3).
- In response to the pandemic, several initiatives were announced that could undermine users’ right to privacy, including a government app and a tracking platform pulling data from public and private sources (see C5).
- Two journalists contributing to different Facebook channels were the victims of violence or intimidation: one was targeted by an explosion that went off in his house, while the other received death threats (see C7).
During the coverage period, Ecuador introduced two new plans to combat geographical and socioeconomic gaps in internet access. In the midst of a military response to mass protests, both fixed and mobile connectivity were disrupted.
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||4.004 6.006|
Internet access in Ecuador has steadily risen as a result of government efforts to increase connectivity across the country. According to the Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL), 66.18 percent of the country population had access to internet by December 2019.1 However, Ecuador’s fixed broadband penetration is relatively low, at around 12 percent in 2019.2 Six percent of Ecuadorian cantons lack fiber-optic cable infrastructure to connect to the internet, phone services, and digital television, according to an October 2018 report from Ministry of Telecommunications (MINTEL).3 According to Speedtest Global Index, the average download speed for fixed broadband in January 2020 was 27.32 Mbps, and the average upload speed was 22.59 Mbps,4 compared to an average download speed of 16.21 Mbps and average upload speed of 13.45 Mbps the previous year.
Meanwhile, mobile internet penetration reached 54.06 percent by the end of 2019,5 compared to 54.88 percent in 2018. Government data shows that as of January 2020, 8.4 million out of 15.9 million active mobile lines were using LTE technology.6
In July 2019, the government announced a new policy, Digital Ecuador,7 to create an electronic government in conjunction with stronger connectivity, including through the deployment of 5G networks. The policy is comprised of three axes—connectivity, efficiency and digital security, and innovation and competitiveness—and is aligned with the government’s Internet for All plan. The latter, launched in November 2019, aims to raise national connectivity to 98 percent by 2021, including by increasing 4G connectivity and providing free Wi-Fi points.8 The government’s Universal Service Plan for 2018–2021 aims to increase availability and access throughout the country, notably by deploying next-generation technologies such as LTE and fiber-optic networks.9
- 1. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” February 2020, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/3.1.1-Cuentas-int….
- 2. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” February 2020, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/3.1.1-Cuentas-int….
- 3. Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Association (MINTEL), “Plan de Servicio Universal 2018- 2021 [Plan of Universal Service],” October 2018, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Plan-d….
- 4. Ookla® Speedtest Global Index, “Ecuador: January 2020,” March 18, 2020, accessed March 2020, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/ecuador.
- 5. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” February 2020, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/3.1.1-Cuentas-int….
- 6. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Servicio Móvil Avanzado [Advanced Mobile Service],” January 2020, http://www.arcotel.gob.ec/servicio-movil-avanzado-sma_3/.
- 7. Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Association (MINTEL), “Acuerdo Ministerial No. 015-2019 [Ministerial Agreement No. 015-2019],” August 2020, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Acuerd….
- 8. Andrea Rodríguez and Diego Ortiz, “Internet Para Todos prevé una conexión nacional del 98% al 2021 [Internet for All foresees a national connection of 98% by 2021],” El Comercio, November 28, 2019, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/internet-conexion-ecuador-tecnolo…. Paula Bertolini, “El plan Ecuador Digital incluye mil zonas Wi-Fi gratuitas, reducción de los precios de smartphones y frecuencias 5G para 2021 [The Ecuador Digital plan includes a thousand free Wi-Fi zones, a reduction in smartphone prices, and 5G frequencies by 2021],” DPL News, May 21, 2019, https://digitalpolicylaw.com/el-plan-ecuador-digital-incluye-mil-zonas-….
- 9. Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Association (MINTEL), “Plan de Servicio Universal 2018- 2021 [Plan of Universal Service 2018-2021],” October 2018, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Plan-d….
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||1.001 3.003|
Socioeconomic and geographic disparities in internet access persist in Ecuador, though the government has introduced initiatives to reduce prices and narrow the gaps. Underserved zones are mostly in the Amazon region, but other areas lacking infrastructure include the southern mountains and coastline, as well as the Galapagos Islands.
Internet access is relatively expensive, and a typical household may spend 8 percent of their monthly income on communications (fixed phone, mobile phone, internet, and cable television).1 Moreover, 2019 saw a rise in underemployment and the number of workers earning less than minimum wage.2 On average in 2019, a monthly internet subscription cost around $20,3 while the minimum monthly wage was $394.4 Meanwhile, 1GB mobile data plans cost an average of $6.93, though there is a competitive environment with prices ranging from $0.65 to $20.5
Imported mobile phones are subject to taxes, which, all combined, amount to 27.5 percent over the purchasing price.6 In addition, courier services for online purchases to Ecuador started to pay import taxes in January 2018.7
According to baseline statistics compiled for the Internet for All plan, around 38 percent of the country’s parishes lack mobile internet connection, and only 16 percent of the parishes have 4G connectivity.8 As part of the plan, though, the cost of fixed services was set to be reduced in 214 rural parishes by 55 percent by March 2020, to $9.50. In addition, recipients of the Human Development Bonus, a cash transfer program, would receive lower mobile rates from the network operator Claro.9 The minimum monthly wage was also raised to $400 for 2020.10
There is a significant divide in internet access between urban households (46.6 percent) and rural households (16.1 percent).11 Fixed internet subscriptions are still concentrated in two provinces with higher levels of urbanization: Guayas (28 percent of subscriptions) and Pichincha (31 percent).12 Among people aged 15 to 49, digital illiteracy is also significantly greater in rural areas (19.0 percent) than in urban areas (7.2 percent), and heavily impacts Indigenous people and marginalized ethnic groups. Digital illiteracy is also greater among women (11.7 percent) compared to men (9.6 percent).13
Ecuador has made improvements in advancing internet literacy and internet access for rural areas through programs facilitated by MINTEL. The country’s state-run “Infocentros”—community centers that began to be installed in June 2012—provide free internet in rural areas.14 As of January 2020, there were 888 Infocentros and 25 larger “Megainfocentros,” covering 741 rural and underserved urban parishes,15 or 63 percent of all parishes.
- 1. Calculations based upon data on utilities services fees and monthly average income in the country by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC).
- 2. “INEC: Empleo pleno cayó a 37,9% en marzo [INEC: Full employment fell to 37.9% in March],” El Universo, April 15, 2019, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/04/15/nota/7287056/inec-empleo…; “Ecuador cerró 2019 con una tasa de desempleo de 3,8% [Ecuador closed 2019 with an unemployment rate of 3.8%],” Primicias, January 16, 2020, https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/economia/cifras-subempleo-desempleo-i….
- 3. Calculation based on advertised plans from providers
- 4. “Ecuador fija en 394 dólares el salario mínimo mensual para 2019 [Ecuador sets the monthly minimum salary for 2019 at $394],” El Universal, December 27, 2018, http://www.eluniversal.com/internacional/29254/ecuador-fija-en-394-dola….
- 5. “Worldwide mobile data pricing: The cost of 1GB of mobile data in 230 countries,” Cable Company, December 27, 2019, https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/.
- 6. Evelyn 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, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/impuestos-celular-limportacion-co….
- 7. Evelyn Tapia, “Las compras vía courier pagarán nueva tasa desde el 1 de enero en Ecuador [Purchases via courier will pay new rate beginning on January 1 in Ecuador],” El Comercio, November 9, 2017, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/compras-courier-pago-impuesto-ecu….
- 8. Andrea Rodríguez and Diego Ortiz, “Internet Para Todos prevé una conexión nacional del 98% al 2021 [Internet for All foresees a national connection of 98% by 2021],” El Comercio, November 28, 2019, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/internet-conexion-ecuador-tecnolo….
- 9. “Gobierno presentó planes de internet a bajo costo [Government presented internet plans at low cost],” El Telégrafo, November 27, 2019, https://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/economia/4/planes-internet-bajo….
- 10. “Salario Básico de Ecuador se fija en $400 para 2020 [Basic Salary of Ecuador is set at $400 for 2020],” El Universo, December 27, 2019, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/12/27/nota/7667652/salario-bas….
- 11. National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), “Tecnologías de la Información y Comunicación. Encuesta Multipropósito - TIC 2018 [Information and Communication Technologies. Multipurpose Survey - ICT 2018],” March 3, 2020, https://www.ecuadorencifras.gob.ec/documentos/web-inec/Multiproposito/2….
- 12. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” February 2020, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/3.1.1-Cuentas-int….
- 13. National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), “Encuesta Tecnológica 2018. Tecnologías de la Información y Comunicación [Technology Survey 2018. Information and Communication Technologies],” May 25, 2020, https://www.ecuadorencifras.gob.ec/documentos/web-inec/Estadisticas_Soc….
- 14. Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Association (MINTEL), “Infocentros Comunitarios [Community Infocenters],” December 27, 2019, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/infocentros-comunitarios/.
- 15. Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Association (MINTEL), “Datos Generales Infocentros [General Information Infocentros],” January, 2020, https://infocentros.mintel.gob.ec/estadisticas-infocentros/; Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Association (MINTEL), “Preguntas frecuentes [Frequently Asked Questions],” January, 2020, https://infocentros.mintel.gob.ec/preguntas-frecuentes/.
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||4.004 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 6 to 4 because, amid mass protests and the circulation of content depicting the military’s response, both fixed and mobile connectivity were disrupted.
In contrast to the previous coverage period, Ecuador experienced intentional disruptions to internet access. Disruptions to internet access occurred during mass protests, sparked by planned austerity measures, that took place in October 2019. According to NetBlocks, on October 7, as content showing the military’s response to demonstrations in Quito began to circulate online, general connectivity from the state-owned fixed internet provider, the National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT), experienced disruptions. This followed CNT’s disruption of access to Facebook and WhatsApp late the previous night (see B1).1 On October 12, the same day President Moreno declared a curfew, connectivity interruptions were imposed by the major mobile provider Claro, first across large swathes of the country for a short period of time, and then in Quito for hours.2 A January 2020 report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted that, during the 11 days of protests, jammers were reportedly used when journalists entered “areas of conflict” or during clashes between demonstrators and the police; the jammers prevented users from making calls or sending messages to share critical information.3
Ecuador’s physical infrastructure is not highly centralized. There are three submarine cables providing connection to the global internet, and the three major ISPs—two of which are private—control their own national infrastructure.
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.4 Civil society groups have raised concerns about the scope of this provision and its potential abuse by the government because standards are vague and use of the law lacks oversight by an independent and impartial court.5
- 1. “Evidence of social media disruptions in Ecuador as crisis deepens,” NetBlocks, October 9, 2019, https://netblocks.org/reports/evidence-of-social-media-disruptions-in-e….
- 2. “Mobile internet disrupted in Quito as Ecuador political crisis escalates,” NetBlocks, October 13, 2019, https://netblocks.org/reports/mobile-internet-disrupted-in-quito-as-ecu….
- 3. “CIDH Presenta observaciones de su visita a Ecuador [Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Presents its Observations Concerning its Visit to Ecuador],” Organization of American States, January 14, 2020, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2020/008.asp.
- 4. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones [Organic Law of Telecommunications],” February 12, 2015, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2016….
- 5. Katitza Rodriguez, “Leaked Documents Confirm Ecuador’s Internet Censorship Machine,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 14, 2016, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/04/leaked-documents-confirm-ecuadors….
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||4.004 6.006|
Ecuador has four major internet service providers (ISPs) covering more than 80 percent of users. The state-owned National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) dominates most of the market with 42.7 percent of the market share of fixed internet services. The other three major players are: Megadatos (17.06 percent), Setel (11.1 percent), and Conecel (Claro) (10.95 percent). Mobile service providers, on the other hand, are an oligopoly: Conecel (Claro) represents 57.04 percent of the market share, followed by Otecel (Movistar) with 26.44 and CNT with 16.52 percent.1
Audio leaks released by the news site La Posta in January 2019 suggested that former ARCOTEL officials manipulated the ISP market’s competitiveness by awarding concessions to providers whose owners had ties to former vice president Jorge Glas.2 As of June 2020, no official investigation appeared to have been conducted.
A January 2019 report from the country’s general comptroller investigated concessions awarded to TELCONET to build a submarine cable3 and found irregularities in the government’s awards process. The report was referred to the office of the attorney general to undertake a criminal investigation,4 which appeared to be ongoing at the end of the coverage period.5
- 1. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” February 2020, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/3.1.1-Cuentas-int….
- 2. “Audio sugiere ‘influencia’ de operadores en Arcotel [Audio suggests operators’ ‘influence’ in Arcotel],” El Universo, January 25, 2019, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/01/25/nota/7155848/audio-sugie….
- 3. General Contralory of the State, “Agencia de Regulación y Control de las Telecomunicaciones ARCOTEL. Informe general [Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency ARCOTEL. General Report],” March 5, 2020, https://4pelagatos.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Cable-submarino-Contr….
- 4. “Contraloría y Telconet, en disputa por Cable Andino [Contralory (of the State) and Telconet, in dispute over Cable Andino],” El Universo, January 23, 2019, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/01/23/nota/7152482/contraloria….
- 5. Roberto Aguilar, “Diana Salazar: ‘Debería hacerse un análisis de probidad de los contratistas’ [Diana Salazar: ‘There should be a probity analysis of contractors’],” El Expreso, May 25, 2020, https://www.expreso.ec/actualidad/deberia-hacerse-analisis-probidad-con….
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||2.002 4.004|
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because frequent turnover in the telecommunications regulator’s directors subsided during the coverage period, while the country’s former media regulator was closed in July 2019.
Created by the 2015 Organic Law of Telecommunications, the Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) is linked to the Ministry of Telecommunications and is responsible for technical aspects of administration, regulation, and control of the telecommunications sector and the radioelectric spectrum.1 ARCOTEL’s directors are appointed directly by the president, a process that may undermine the body’s independence.2 The agency has had frequent turnover in its directors, with seven changes in leadership between 2017 and 2019.3 Juan Carlos Martínez, who was removed after just five days in office in January 2019, claimed that his dismissal was linked to his aim to combat corruption within the agency.4
Current director Ricardo Freire Granja has been in office since January 2019 and has apparently improved the agency’s integrity. Nonetheless, voices from Ecuadorian civil society have still criticized its lack of transparency and unwillingness to revise the decisions made during the administration of former president Correa. 5
Access providers and other internet-related organizations are allowed and, to a certain extent, are encouraged to establish self-regulatory mechanisms. Examples of this include the public assistance to develop public and private Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT); the local internet exchange point (NAP.ec) managed by the Ecuadorian Association of Providers of Internet Services and Information Technologies (AEPROVI); and the Ecuadorian IPv6 Task Force, among others. The allocation of digital assets—such as domain names or IP addresses, which are designated by NIC.ec6—is not controlled by the government.
Ecuador’s former media regulator, the Superintendency of Information and Communications (SUPERCOM), was eliminated in July 2019 by the reform to the Communication Law that went into effect in February. The agency was highly criticized for acting as a tool for political censorship.7
- 1. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones [Organic Law of Telecommunications],” February 12, 2015, https://www.grupotvcable.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/ley_organica_de….
- 2. Leticia Pautasio, “Ecuador: Ley de Telecomunicaciones entra en vigencia y Arcotel inicia sus funciones [Ecuador: Telecommunications Law enters into force and Arcotel starts its work],” TeleSemana.com, March 6, 2015, https://www.telesemana.com/blog/2015/03/06/ecuador-ley-de-telecomunicac….
- 3. “Tercer director de Arcotel en menos de quince días [Third director of Arcotel in less than fifteen days],” El Universo, January 21, 2019, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/01/21/nota/7151390/tercer-dire…; “Arcotel posesiona a su séptimo director en casi 2 años [ARCOTEL is on its seventh director in almost 2 years],” Ecuavisa, February 14, 2019, https://www.ecuavisa.com/articulo/noticias/politica/459096-arcotel-pose….
- 4. Patricia Carolina González, “Nuevo director de la Arcotel solo duró cinco días en el cargo [New Arcotel director only lasted five days in office],” El Comercio, January 21, 2019, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/nuevo-director-martinez-arcotel-r…; “Cambian a director de Arcotel que removió funcionarios [They change to Arcotel director who removed officials],” Ecuavisa, January 21, 2019, https://www.ecuavisa.com/articulo/noticias/actualidad/450941-cambian-di….
- 5. Interviews with representatives from three different civil society organizations of Ecuador who requested anonymity. March 4-6, 2020.
- 6. https://www.nic.ec/
- 7. “La máquina sancionadora de medios llamada Supercom [The media sanction machine called Supercom],” Plan V, January 10, 2017, https://www.planv.com.ec/historias/sociedad/la-maquina-sancionadora-med….
Mass protests during the coverage period were accompanied by disruptions to multimedia sharing on Facebook and WhatsApp. Claiming copyright infringement, the government initiated several takedown requests and account suspensions against digital outlets during the reporting period. Misinformation and disinformation about both the protest movement and the COVID-19 pandemic proliferated.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content?||5.005 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 6 to 5 due to connectivity disruptions, in response to mass protests, that prevented the sharing of multimedia over Facebook and WhatsApp.
Though systematic blocking or filtering of content is not common, after the death of a protester in Quito in October 2019 the government-owned provider CNT disrupted its content delivery network and backend image servers, which allow for the circulation of audio, images, and videos. Fixed-internet users were unable to share such content via WhatsApp and Facebook for several hours on October 6 and 7, except through the use of VPNs.1
In June 2019, the national copyright directorate of the National Service of Intellectual Rights (SENADI) ordered internet providers to block five URLs belonging to Roja Directa, which streams sports matches and was violating transmission rights.2 Similarly, in August, SENADI instructed providers to block IPs that allow access to internet protocol television (IPTV) services on the basis of copyright infringement.3
There were no reports of blocking of tools that anonymize navigation or circumvent censorship.
- 1. “Evidence of social media disruptions in Ecuador as crisis deepens,” NetBlocks, October 9, 2019, https://netblocks.org/reports/evidence-of-social-media-disruptions-in-e…; Ellery Roberts Biddle and the Netizen Report Team, “Netizen Report: Iraq and Ecuador face network shutdowns amid public protests,” Advox, October 11, 2019, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2019/10/11/netizen-report-turkey-iraq-an….
- 2. Valentina Rodríguez, “Ecuador bloquea cinco páginas web por vulnerar derechos de autor [Ecuador blocks five web pages for violating copyright],” Primicias, June 6, 2019, https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/tecnologia/ecuador-bloquea-cinco-pagi….
- 3. “Senadi anunció bloqueo de direcciones IP que permiten acceder a señales de televisión por internet [Senadi announced the blocking of IP addresses that allow access to Internet television signals],” El Universo, August 19, 2019, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/08/19/nota/7478499/senadi-anun….
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content?||2.002 4.004|
Under former president Rafael Correa, copyright law was frequently used to censor politically sensitive content online.1 This practice eased considerably during the first two years of Moreno’s presidency. However, several takedown notices on copyright grounds were filed in 2019 and 2020 and account suspensions on Twitter have also continued.
In February 2020, a former lower-ranking official in the office of the presidency filed a complaint to the hosting company of the news commentary site 4Pelagatos for using a photograph of Moreno. The official stated that the site should be taken down. Moreno ultimately apologized to 4Pelagatos and the complaint was dropped.2 During the same month, Twitter removed a video from the account of the independent news site La Historia, in which Moreno tours the city of Manta. The takedown request, based on copyright infringement, apparently came from the presidency.3
Between July 29 and July 31, 2019, the pro-Correa news site Ecuador Inmediato received 10 notifications for copyright infringement and misuse of photographs owned by the country’s presidency through its hosting provider iWeb. Most of the complaints came from the office of the presidency. The content included photos of Moreno with Colombian president Iván Duque and with French president Emmanuel Macron, and of Moreno’s tour of Italy, France, and the Netherlands.4
Similarly, in July 2019, the investigative news site La Fuente was removed by its server without notice due to a request from the presidency, which argued that the outlet had used copyrighted content without authorization in several reports. Though not specified, the articles related to Moreno, other politicians, and the now-defunct site INA Papers, which had disclosed content including documents related to offshore accounts under the name of Moreno’s brother. La Fuente ultimately moved to another server.5 The Twitter account of La Fuente was also suspended on July 24 after having been previously deleted by Twitter in February. Also in July, spurred by numerous censorship attempts around investigations of government corruption, the outlet announced that it had changed its name to Periodismo de Investigación (Investigative Journalism) and created a new Twitter account.6
In December 2019, two days after publishing a report on access to information, the official account of Ecuador’s ombudsman office, which is responsible for protecting and defending human rights, was suspended by Twitter, apparently after being reported for spamming.7 The account was back after three days, without any official information from Twitter on the reasons for the suspension.8.
- 1. Maira Sutton, “State Censorship by Copyright? Spanish Firm Abuses DMCA to Silence Critics of Ecuador's Government,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 15, 2014, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/05/state-censorship-copyright-spanis…; 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, https://cpj.org/blog/2016/01/how-us-copyright-law-is-being-used-to-take….
- 2. “La Presidencia demanda a 4Pelagatos [The Presidency demands 4Pelagatos],” 4Pelagatos, February 4, 2020, https://4pelagatos.com/2020/02/04/la-presidencia-demanda-a-4pelagatos/; “Fundamedios: el caso de 4P. no es aislado [Fundamedios: the case of 4P. is not isolated],” 4Pelagatos, February 7, 2020, https://4pelagatos.com/2020/02/07/fundamedios-el-caso-de-4p-no-es-aisla….
- 3. “Video del portal La Historia fue dado de baja en Twitter por supuesta violación de derechos copyright [Video of the portal La Historia was taken down by Twitter for alleged copyright infringement],” Fundamedios, March 6, 2020, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/twitter-leninmoreno-derechos-dig….
- 4. “Portal Ecuadorinmediato recibe 10 denuncias por mal uso de fotografías [Portal Ecuador Inmediato receives 10 complaints for misuse of photographs],” Fundamedios, August 7, 2019, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/portal-ecuadorinmediato-recibe-1….
- 5. “Web de La Fuente es dado de baja luego de una denuncia de la Presidencia de la República [La Fuente website is taken down after a complaint by the Presidency of the Republic],” Fundamedios, July 12, 2019, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/web-de-la-fuente-es-dado-de-baja….
- 6. “Twitter cierra nuevamente la cuenta de portal digital investigativo [Twitter closed again the digital portal Investigative Journalisam account],” Fundamedios, July 25, 2019, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/twitter-cierra-nuevamente-la-cue….
- 7. Freddy Carrión Intriago, “Informamos a la ciudadanía que la cuenta de la red social Twitter de la Defensoría del Pueblo ha sido suspendida y, por lo tanto, alertamos que cualquier tipo de información institucional será anunciada a través de otros canales oficiales [We inform citizens that Ecuador Ombudsman’s account on Twitter has been suspended and, therefore, we alert that any type of institutional information will be announced through other official channels],” Defensoría del Pueblo, December 20, 2019, https://www.dpe.gob.ec/informamos-a-la-ciudadania-que-la-cuenta-de-la-r….
- 8. Defensoría del Pueblo, @DEFENSORIAEC, “Comunicado | La #DefensoríaDelPueblo de #Ecuador agradece a quienes apoyaron a la institución durante la suspensión de su cuenta oficial de Twitter [Statement | The Ecuador Ombudsman thanks those who supported the institution during the suspension of its official Twitter account],” December 23, 2019, https://twitter.com/DEFENSORIAEC/status/1209243027899928576.
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||2.002 4.004|
A significant element of the Communication Law reforms was the elimination of the powerful agency, the Superintendency of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM). Under Correa’s government, SUPERCOM had aggressively pursued print media (including all media with an online presence), accusing them of unbalanced reporting and “media lynching”—an allegation that was often applied to investigative reporting in Ecuador.1 The reforms also remove digital media and content providers’ liability over user comments, while upholding their responsibility over editorial content published by uncredited authors.2 The corresponding regulations were still pending as of June 2020.
In addition, ARCOTEL is authorized to block internet domains that violate national laws. ARCOTEL’s agenda for 2019 included the development of a technical norm that should add more transparency by outlining blocking and notification procedures to be followed by the regulator.3 The development of this was still pending at the end of the coverage period.
- 1. Silvia Higuera, “Ecuador’s National Assembly eliminates controversial sanctioning body with reforms to Communications Law,” Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, December 20, 2018, https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-20435-ecuador%E2%80%99s-nationa….
- 2. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Ley Orgánica Reformatoria a la ley Orgánica de Comunicación [Amendment of the Organic Law of Communication],” February 20, 2019, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/sites/default/files/private/asamble….
- 3. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “La ARCOTEL difundió la Agenda Regulatoria que ejecutará en 2019 [ARCOTEL disseminated the Regulatory Agenda it will execute in 2019],” December 27, 2019, http://www.arcotel.gob.ec/la-arcotel-difundio-la-agenda-regulatoria-que….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||3.003 4.004|
Coverage of corruption cases or abuses of power by the current administration has increased in recent years. Nonetheless, some journalists have noted that while there is more permissiveness to openly criticize the former administration, some self-censorship remains. News related to drug trafficking and armed groups on the northern border with Colombia must be treated with special care. Unofficially, journalists are told to be cautious when reporting on new information related to a 2018 case in which three members of the El Comercio news team were kidnapped and subsequently murdered by a Colombian cartel near the Colombian border, as well as other issues related to drugs cartels. In addition, detailed information about the El Comercio news team kidnapping and the subsequent failed rescue negotiations were still under state reserve during the coverage period.1
On the other hand, researchers found that coverage devoted to the October 2019 protests varied between traditional mass media and independent digital outlets. The former followed a government narrative, while the latter tended to cover events from the perspectives of the protesters.2
- 1. “Three Lives Lost, Many Questions Still Unanswered,” Forbidden Stories, December 27, 2019, https://forbiddenstories.org/three-lives-lost-many-questions-still-unan….
- 2. Jose Robalino, “Hay un cerco y un circo mediático, por parte de los medios privados, en torno a las causas de las protestas [There is a fence and a media circus, by the private media, around the causes of the protests],” Pichincha Comunicaciones, October 29, 2019, http://www.pichinchacomunicaciones.com.ec/hay-un-cerco-y-un-circo-media….
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
Progovernment trolling, harassment of critics, and punitive media restrictions were particularly prevalent under former president Correa, but government-led manipulation tactics have eased since Moreno took office. Past reports on state-sponsored troll farms in Ecuador revealed efforts to skew public opinion in favor of Correa’s government.1 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.2
During the coverage period, observers continued to raise concerns about the impact of misleading or false information on public opinion in Ecuador, especially amid anti-austerity demonstrations in October 2019.3 While the identities of the actors driving these trends are uncertain, disinformation and misinformation proliferated on social media during and after the protests.4 According to the fact-checking group Ecuador Chequea, the majority of the manipulated information during the protests was spread through Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, and most commonly targeted Moreno.5 For example, a doctored YouTube video showed Moreno appearing to say that it did not matter if people died while unemployed. Other manipulated information included false claims of an imminent water shortage and content attempting to undermine negotiations between the government and Indigenous groups.6 The hashtag #CONAIEterroristas, referring to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, was used to attack activists, for example by claiming that Indigenous men used Indigenous women to protect themselves from the police.7 To counter the false and misleading information, the government sent mass text messages to Ecuadorians’ phones with the hashtag #BastaDeNoticiasFalsas (enough fake news), warning them about fake stories around topics like reduced worker salaries and debt forgiveness to the rich.8
A three-way battle to control the narrative around the protests also took place on Twitter. The most active group consisted of supporters of Correa and his army of trolls, followed by the government’s communication apparatus. They used the hashtag #YoTambienSoyZangano (I am also a drone) in an attempt to stoke discontent against Moreno, as well as the hashtag #MuerteCruzadaYa (mutual death now), referring to the constitutional provision that would allow the president to disband Ecuador’s parliament (the National Assembly), end their own term, and call for new elections. The national government in turn attempted to delegitimize the protests using the hashtag #EstoNoEsUnParo (this is not a strike) and bring together the support of sectors concerned with violence through the hashtag #EcuadorPaísdePaz (country of peace). In contrast, the Indigenous movement’s own narrative was largely absent from Twitter and could be found instead on community radio stations and Facebook pages.9
According to a March 2020 investigation by Código Vidrio, the COVID-19 pandemic was allegedly exploited by Correa and his supporters to orchestrate coordinated disinformation campaigns. The 13 disinformation campaigns included fabricated content showing corpses on city streets and mass graves being dug in Guayaquil—one of the country’s first COVID-19 hotspots. Coordination for campaigns originating from Ecuador reportedly occurred through at least 25 groups on the messaging app Telegram. Members disseminated content on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. Other disinformation campaigns originated in countries such as Mexico and Argentina, where several former officials and intelligence agents live.10
In the summer of 2019, Twitter announced that it had removed over 1,000 accounts, mostly fake, that were linked to Moreno’s political party (Alianza PAIS). The accounts employed hashtag manipulation and spam retweets to disseminate information about the government, largely relating to free expression laws, official censorship, and technology.11
In August 2019, a fake Twitter account attributed to the country’s armed forces was created. Several offensive messages towards Moreno and criticism of Julian Assange’s expulsion from the Ecuadorian embassy in London were issued from the account. In a statement, the armed forces announced that they had submitted a complaint to Twitter for the account to be deleted.12
- 1. “Troll center: derroche y acoso desde las redes sociales [Troll center: waste and harassment on social media],” Fundación 1000 hojas, March 24, 2015, http://milhojas.is/612261-troll-center-derroche-y-acoso-desde-las-redes…; Samuel Woolley, “#HackingTeam Leaks: Ecuador is Spending Millions on Malware, Pro-Government Trolls,” Advox, August 4, 2015, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2015/08/04/hackingteam-leaks-ecuador-is-….
- 2. “Catalina Botero compara acciones de Bukele con Correa en Ecuador [Catalina Botero compares Bukele’s actions to that of Correa in Ecuador],” La Prensa Gráfica, February 19, 2016, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Catalina-Botero-compara-acci….
- 3. Government Ministry, “El Gobierno mantendrá el diálogo con sectores que tengan intereses conjuntos a favor del país [The Government will maintain dialogue with sectors that have joint interests in favor of the country],” October 9, 2019, https://www.ministeriodegobierno.gob.ec/el-gobierno-mantendra-el-dialog….
- 4. Cristina Tardáguila, “Amid protests and misinformation, fact-checkers are again proving their usefulness,” Poynter, October 24, 2019, https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2019/amid-protests-and-misinforma…; Emily Lewis, “WhatsApp as a tool for fear and intimidation in Lebanon’s protests,” Coda, November 12, 2019, https://codastory.com/disinformation/whatsapp-lebanon-protest/; Cristina Tardáguila, “This is what a fake water shortage in the middle of a political crisis looks like,” Poynter, October 21, 2019, https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2019/this-is-what-a-fake-water-sh….
- 5. “El Álbum de la Desinformación – Edición: Paro Nacional [The Album of Disinformation – Edition: National Strike],” EcuadorChequea, November 13, 2019, https://www.ecuadorchequea.com/el-album-de-la-desinformacion-edicion-pa….
- 6. Cristina Tardáguila, “Amid protests and misinformation, fact-checkers are again proving their usefulness,” Poynter, October 24, 2019, https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2019/amid-protests-and-misinforma…
- 7. Danielle Mackey, “All the president’s trolls – Ecuador’s government-run Twitter army became a nexus for online political harassment across the world,” Rest of the World, June 16, 2020, https://restofworld.org/2020/ecuador-president-twitter-trolls/.
- 8. Carla Maldonado, “La guerra digital de las fake news [The digital war against fake news],” Gestion Digital, January 29, 2020, https://www.revistagestion.ec/index.php/sociedad-analisis/la-guerra-dig…
- 9. Based on preliminary research by FOTN country analyst
- 10. “Así propaga el correísmo el virus del miedo en redes [This is how Correísmo, the virus of fear on social media, spreads],” Código Vidrio, March 30, 2020, http://www.codigovidrio.com/code/asi-propaga-el-correismo-el-virus-del-…; Martha Roldós, “Morir en Guayaquil [Dying in Guayaquil],” Periodismo de Investigación, April 3, 2020, https://periodismodeinvestigacion.com/2020/04/03/morir-en-guayaquil/.
- 11. “Disclosing new data to our archive of information operations,” Twitter Safety, September 20, 2019, https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2019/info-ops-disclosure-….
- 12. “Cuentas de Twitter de Fuerzas Armadas y de ProEcuador fueron hackeadas [Armed Forces and ProEcuador Twitter accounts were hacked],” Fundamedios, August 6, 2019, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/cuentas-de-twitter-de-fuerzas-ar….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||2.002 3.003|
Reforms in 2019 of the Communication Law sought to dismantle broad restrictions on media outlets that encouraged censorship and curtailed financial resources for independent media. Under the now defunct SUPERCOM, print media (including all media with an online presence) faced accusations of unbalanced reporting and media lynching—an allegation that was often applied to investigative reporting in Ecuador. The 2019 reforms also maintained the Article 6 ban on foreign ownership of media in Ecuador. Financial corporations and their shareholders are also banned from investing in media according to Article 312 of Ecuador’s constitution, as well as Article 256 of the Organic Monetary and Financial Code.1
There is a general mandate to protect net neutrality in both the Culture Act (Article 5) and the Organic Law of Telecommunications (Articles 3, 4 and 66). However, Article 64 of the latter act 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.” This provision may allow providers to set different speeds for different contents, sites, or apps. Nonetheless, there is no evidence that ISPs are operating with content discrimination rules that might violate net neutrality.
- 1. National Assembly Legislative and Oversight Committee, “Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador,” Georgetown Political Database of the Americas, January 31, 2011, http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Ecuador/english08.html.
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity?||2.002 4.004|
A wide array of media outlets has emerged in Ecuador in the last decade. Since the blocking of websites is not an issue, regular internet users do not need to use VPNs or other circumvention tools to access online news. However, a history of censorship and polarization, as well as restricted financial resources for independent media, prevent entrepreneurial efforts from thriving. As of March 2020, the top ten most popular websites in Ecuador included the digital versions of traditional newspapers and television channels, such as El Comercio, El Universo, and Ecuavisa.1 Nonetheless, some small independent digital media outlets have become influential because of their investigative reporting, such as Mil Hojas and La Fuente.
There are no major digital outlets publishing content in the Indigenous language Kichwa, the primary language for at least 10 percent of the Ecuadorian population. There are several very small digital media outlets (such as blogs) focused on matters affecting the Indigenous population, but they publish content in Spanish rather than Indigenous languages.
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||4.004 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 5 to 4 because disruptions to fixed and mobile connectivity, as well as to the sharing of multimedia over Facebook and WhatsApp, were instituted in response to mass protests.
There are no legal restrictions around digital advocacy or online communities, and social media has continued to be a dynamic tool for social mobilization in Ecuador. However, as a measure to prevent information-sharing during the October 2019 demonstrations, connectivity was disrupted and users were prevented from sharing photos, images, and audio recordings over WhatsApp and Facebook (see A3 and B1). Moreover, in just one day, according to Fundamedios, at least 16 people who clearly identified themselves as members of the press, were attacked by police officers during protests in Quito and elsewhere. For example, a journalist from the online outlet Primicias was beaten for filming the police attacking a protester.1 At the same time, though, Ecuadorians were ultimately able to use Twitter and Facebook extensively to express opinions and call for action during the protests.
There have also been waves of social media activism around women’s rights. In August and September 2019, as lawmakers considered whether to decriminalize abortion in certain cases, the use of the hashtag #AbortoPorViolacion (abortion in case of rape) proliferated on social media, though decriminalization was voted down.2 Social media users have also flocked to Facebook and Twitter to express indignation about violence against women, which is a major issue in Ecuador. During the coverage period, advocates sustained the campaign #JusticiaParaPaola (Justice for Paola) to demand accountability for a 2002 victim of sexual violence 3
- 1. “Policías agreden a equipo periodístico de El Comercio y Primicias [Police attacks the journalistic team of El Comercio and Primicias],” La República, October 3, 2019, https://www.larepublica.ec/blog/sociedad/2019/10/03/policia-agrede-a-eq…; “FUNDAMEDIOS condena la violencia policial en contra de al menos 16 comunicadores durante el paro nacional [FUNDAMEDIOS condemns police violence against at least 16 journalists during the national strike],” Fundamedios, October 4, 2019, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/fundamedios-condena-la-violencia….
- 2. “Voting on decriminalization of abortion in Ecuador suspended,” Peoples Dispatch, August 3, 2019, https://peoplesdispatch.org/2019/08/03/voting-on-decriminalization-of-a…; “Activists vow to continue struggle as bid to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape fails in Ecuador,” Peoples Dispatch, September 19, 2019, https://peoplesdispatch.org/2019/09/19/activists-vow-to-continue-strugg….
- 3. Observatorio de Género y Diversidad del Colegio de Abogados de Pichincha, #JusticiaPorPaola #JusticiaDeGénero, January 28, 2020 https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=159276498821939; #Justiciaparapaola https://twitter.com/hashtag/justiciaparapaola?lang=en.
Users were briefly arrested during the coverage period for social media posts that criticized the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the case of a Swedish programmer and activist who was arrested in April 2019 remained pending. In response to the pandemic, the government announced several initiatives that could jeopardize users’ right to privacy, though a data protection law was submitted to the legislature. During the coverage period, two journalists operating or contributing to Facebook channels reported being targeted with violence or intimidation.
|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?||3.003 6.006|
Guarantees for freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom in Ecuador are complex and are not always fulfilled, despite significant legal changes in recent years. Ecuador’s constitution grants “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).
In a promising move, several restrictive provisions contained in the 2013 Communication Law were reformed and enacted in February 2019.1 Important changes included the elimination of the mandatory media code of conduct (Article 10) and the figure of media lynching that was used to prevent journalists from investigating corruption. Furthermore, the SUPERCOM, the agency that was in charge of overseeing compliance and sanctioning infractions, was eliminated. However, the office of the audience ombudsman—an important resource to which citizens appealed when discriminatory content was published—was also disbanded by the reforms to the Communication Law.2
In December 2015, the National Assembly amended Article 384 of the Communication Law to include the mandate that “communication as a public service [emphasis added] will be provided through public, private and community media.” The move to categorize communication as a public service drew criticism for its potential to undermine freedom of expression as a human right and open the way for broad media regulation.3 In August 2018, the Constitutional Court nullified the 2015 amendments, which eliminated the characterization of communication as a “public service” and potentially restored it to a right.4 However, the 2019 reforms to the Communication Law, in its Article 5, maintains that media “provide a public service.”5 In January 2019, President Moreno sent to the National Assembly a partial reform to the Communication Law to address Article 5, removing the “public service” characterization and reinstating communication as a right.6 In February 2020, the National Assembly’s collective rights commission agreed on reforms to article 5, including clarifying the definition of “media”.7 However, the reform had not been enacted the end of the coverage period.
In March 2019, a proposal to reform the Organic Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information was presented to the National Assembly. The proposal aims to limit the scope of “reserved information” that has been used to curtail access to public information in the past.8 The matter was pending debate in July 2020.
- 1. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Ley Orgánica Reformatoria a la ley Orgánica de Comunicación [Amendment of the Organic Law of Communication],” February 20, 2019, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/sites/default/files/private/asamble….
- 2. Ana Cristina Basantes, “Claves para entender las reformas a la Ley Orgánica de Comunicación en Ecuador [Key Points to Understand the Reforms of the Organic Law of Communication in Ecuador],” GK, February 18, 2019, https://gk.city/?s=la+reformas+la+ley+organica+comunicacion.
- 3. John Otis, “How Ecuador's plans to make communications a public service is threat to free press,” Committee to Protect Journalists, January 20, 2015, https://cpj.org/blog/2015/01/how-ecuadors-plans-to-make-communications-….
- 4. “La comunicación dejó de ser un servicio público en Ecuador [Communication stopped being a public service in Ecuador],” El Telégrafo, August 1, 2018, https://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/politica/3/enmiendas-corte-cons….
- 5. “Comunicación como servicio público no se eliminó de proyecto de Ley Orgánica de Comunicación [Communication as a public service was not removed from the Organic Communication Law project],” El Universo, January 15, 2019, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2019/01/15/nota/7139510/comunicacio….
- 6. “Asamblea debatirá en marzo la comunicación como servicio público [National Assembly will discuss in March communication as a public service],” El Telégrafo, February 16, 2019, https://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/politica/3/asamblea-debatira-co….
- 7. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Comisión de Derechos Colectivos Descarta Regular Plataformas Digitales de Comunicación (Collective Rights Commission Dismisses Regulating Digital Communication Platforms],” February 12, 2020, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/es/noticia/65342-comision-de-derech….
- 8. Defensoría del Pueblo Ecuador, “Defensoría del Pueblo recibirá aportes de la ciudadanía al anteproyecto de la LOTAIP [Ombudsman’s office will receive citizen’s contributons on the LOTAIP draft], November 14, 2019, https://www.dpe.gob.ec/defensoria-del-pueblo-recibira-aportes-de-la-ciu….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities?||2.002 4.004|
During his second year in office, President Moreno pushed through promised reforms to punitive legislation that assigned penalties for various online activities, which had led to systematic abuses in the past. Despite such reforms, provisions threatening freedom of expression online were left intact, including criminal penalties for libel. Changes to the penal code that entered into force in August 2014 eliminated criminal charges for insult but retained them for slander and libel.1 Article 396 of the penal code notably punishes expressions that “discredit or dishonor” with imprisonment of 15 to 30 days. Article 179 restricts protections for whistleblowers by establishing a prison sentence of six months to one year for any person “who, by virtue of [their] 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 exceptions 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 March 2019, a proposal for a Digital Security Law was presented to the National Assembly. The law’s stated purpose is “to detect and block hackers attempting to interfere and break information networks from the existing systems within the country.”2 There was also an initiative to draft a cybersecurity law. The proposals did not appear to have advanced as of May 2020.
- 1. Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Cults, “Código Orgánico Integral Penal [Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code],” 2014, http://www.oas.org/juridico/PDFs/mesicic5_ecu_ane_con_judi_c%C3%B3d_org….
- 2. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Proyecto de Ley de Seguridad Digitial [Digital Security Law Project],” March 28, 2019, http://ppless.asambleanacional.gob.ec/alfresco/d/d/workspace/SpacesStor….
|Are individuals penalized for online activities?||3.003 6.006|
Lawsuits have threatened social media users and online journalists in recent years, while a prominent case against Ola Bini, a Swedish digital security expert with links to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gained international attention and sparked widespread criticism among digital rights activists in 2019. In April 2019, Ecuadorian police arrested Bini, and placed him under investigation for “alleged participation in attacks against the integrity of computer systems.”1 Based on the lack of incriminating information, human rights defenders said that his arrest was arbitrary.2 The Ecuadorian government attributed his detention to an alleged scheme to blackmail President Moreno over Ecuador’s disassociation from Assange,3 as Bini had visited Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London over 10 times.4 Bini was arrested on the same day that, after more than six years, Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum and British authorities removed him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.5 Moreno asserted that Assange was establishing a spying center within the Embassy from which he was interfering with the democratic stability of several countries, including Ecuador.6
Ecuadorian open source and open data communities supported the hashtag #FreeOlaBini as a widespread campaign to demand his release.7 Bini was finally released from his detention in June 2019, after the Provincial Court of Pichincha granted his lawyers request for habeas corpus.8 As of July 2020, his case was still in preliminary hearings.9
In April 2020, a user called Rubén Ricardo SC was arrested in the city of Esmeraldas after posting photos and videos of himself in a plastic bag to a Facebook group. The bag, meant to be satirical, represented the lack of protective gear for health workers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The police claimed that the posts were a source of misinformation, and justified the arrest under Executive Decree 1017, which declared a state of emergency. He was ultimately released. During the same month, Wilmer Enrique AV was arrested in Guayaquil for a hate crime: he posted two videos that went viral, criticizing the government for its response to the pandemic. A judge later ruled his detention to be illegal.10
- 1. “Ciudadano sueco fue procesado por presunto ataque a la integridad de sistemas informáticos [Swedish citizen processed by alleged attack on integrity of computer systems],” Fiscalía General del Estado, April 13, 2019, https://www.fiscalia.gob.ec/ciudadano-sueco-fue-procesado-por-presunto-….
- 2. David Kaye, @davidakaye, “nothing in this story connects @olabini to any crime. digital privacy advocate/expert, expressed support for WL, etc - for sure. but the govt of #Ecuador must demonstrate more than that or this looks like an arbitrary detention,” April 14, 2019, https://twitter.com/davidakaye/status/1117489081397547008.
- 3. José María León Cabrera, “Ecuador Detains a Friend of Assange. Critics Say It’s Guilt by Association,” The New York Times, April 21, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/21/world/americas/ecuador-ola-bini-assa….
- 4. Joshua Goodman and Frank Bajak, “Who Is Ola Bini? Swedish Developer Who Visited Assange Arrested In Ecuador,” Talking Points Memo, April 13, 2019, https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/who-is-ola-bini-swedish-programmer-w….
- 5. Patrick Wintour, “Assange tried to use embassy as 'centre for spying', says Ecuador's Moreno,” The Guardian, April 14, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/apr/14/assange-tried-to-use-emba….
- 6. Nicholas Casey and Jo Becker, “As Ecuador Harbored Assange, It Was Subjected to Threats and Leaks,” The New York Times, April 12, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/12/world/europe/ecuador-assange-wikilea….
- 7. Asociación de Software Libre del Ecuador, @asle_ec, April 12-14, 2019, https://twitter.com/asle_ec/status/1116712138964381697.
- 8. “Justicia de Ecuador ordena liberar a informático sueco vinculado con Assange [Justice of Ecuador orders release of Swedish computer specialist linked to Assange],” El Comercio, June 20, 2019, https://elcomercio.pe/mundo/actualidad/ecuador-justicia-ecuador-deja-li….
- 9. “Observing the evaluation and preparatory trial hearing of the Ola Bini case,” Association for Progressive Communications, March 8, 2020, https://www.apc.org/en/node/36050/.
- 10. “Policía detiene a un ciudadano en Esmeraldas acusado de “desinformar en Facebook” [The Police Detains a Citizen in Esmeraldas Accused of “Disinforming on Facebook”],” Fundamedios, April 4, 2020, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/desinformacion-policia-esmeralda…; “Acusan de delito de odio a ciudadano que expresó su indignación en redes [A Citizen Who Expressed His Outrage on Social Media is Accused of Hate Crime],” Pichincha Comunicaciones, April 7, 2020, http://www.pichinchacomunicaciones.com.ec/acusan-de-delito-de-odio-a-ci…; “Justicia declara ilegalidad en detención de Wilmer Aguilar Bayas [Justice Declares Illegality in Wilmer Aguilar Bayas’ Detention],” Manabí Noticias, April 7, 2020, https://manabinoticias.com/justicia-declara-ilegalidad-en-detencion-de-….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||3.003 4.004|
Neither anonymous nor encrypted communications are banned in Ecuador, and users of encryption are not subject to turn over their encryption keys without a court mandate. The recent reforms of the Communication Law eliminated requirements for users to register with their name and government identification number in order to make comments in digital fora and news sites.1
Registration of cell phones and SIM cards, however, is mandatory.2 ISPs are required to submit the IP addresses of their clients without a judicial order upon request by the regulatory agency ARCOTEL.3
- 1. “Normas deontológicas, eliminadas de la Ley de Comunicación [Deontological standards, removed from the Communication Law],” El Universo, December 3, 2018, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2018/12/03/nota/7081764/normas-deon….
- 2. “Freedom of Expression, Encryption and Anonymity, Civil Society and Private Sector Perceptions,” Derechos Digitales, 2015, https://www.derechosdigitales.org/wp-content/uploads/freedom-of-express….
- 3. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Reglamento Abonados Servicios Telecomunicaciones y Valor Agregado, Art. 29.9 [Telecommunication Services Subscribers and Aggregated Value Regulations, Article 29.9],” July 20, 2012, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/reglamento-para-l….
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
Concerns for internet users’ privacy emerged during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, interior minister María Paula Romo announced that Moreno’s state of emergency decree authorized the government to deploy location tracking technology, via satellite and mobile phones, on those who were under “a state of sanitary quarantine and/or compulsory isolation.”1 A group of civil society organizations immediately voiced concerns about potential privacy violations, particularly given the country’s lack of regulations and an independent authority mandated to protect personal data. The absence of these could make it more difficult to ensure the tracking system is proportional and nondiscriminatory. They also criticized the initiative’s lack of transparency, including around the duration and means of storing and securing the data.2 Authorities have not disclosed how the data would be processed, how long it would be stored, and the other purposes it could be used for.3
In April 2020, the Ministry of Telecommunications (MINTEL) presented its tracking platform, developed through a public-private partnership, which integrates data from mobile phone providers, the national emergency response system ECU911, the ministry’s location tracking of smartphones, and Salud EC. The data analytics this platform provides reportedly enables authorities to track patients that tested positive for COVID-19 and identify those who might have it, whether from being in a large gathering or interacting with someone carrying the virus. The mayor of Quito also threatened to use police to keep people who tested positive in their houses.6 Though the government claimed personal information would not be disclosed, critics noted that users lacked clear legal protections and warned that the platform could be used in ways that violate users’ privacy. 7
Later in April, interior minister Romo acknowledged in a television interview the invasiveness of GPS tracking, saying that the authorities were working on an app that would align with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union (EU).8 However, as of June 2020, no further information about the app had been made public.
Prior to the privacy concerns that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ecuador’s government had a history of surveilling its citizens by means of communications technology. Created in 2009, the National Secretariat of Intelligence (SENAIN) was in charge of producing “strategic SIGINT [signals intelligence] for the integral security of the state, society and democracy.” Most of its budget was allocated to “special expenses for communications and counterintelligence.”9 Leaked documents from former president Correa´s administration exposed compelling evidence that the government engaged in surveillance of a wide range of individuals, including illegal spying on politicians, journalists, and activists.10
In September 2018, President Moreno eliminated SENAIN and created the Strategic Intelligence Center (CIES).11 However, the CIES is mandated to operate “within the current constitutional framework, so that during the execution of intelligence activities, strategic intelligence and counterintelligence, only information that contributes to public and state security will be produced.”12 Though SENAIN had been shut down, CIES received all its functions, competences, attributions, rights, obligations, resources, and budget.13
Ecuador’s intelligence apparatus has access to extensive surveillance capabilities. An April 2019 investigation by the New York Times showed that the national emergency response system known as ECU911 was a central piece of a massive surveillance system under Correa.14 The system began to be developed in 2011 by the Chinese state company CEIEC, as well as Huawei. As of April 2019, there were more than 4,000 cameras deployed across the country. These cameras transmit live to the ECU911 headquarters and a direct mirror of the ECU911 cameras is reportedly at CIES offices.15 There have also been reports about the application of facial recognition technology in certain places such as airports, and the introduction of a new system to locate and track mobile phones.16
The efficacy of the CIES’s surveillance capabilities were put into question in October 2019, when government officials and legislators agreed that the body had failed to provide strategic intelligence to prevent and counteract that month’s civil unrest. CIES had reportedly based their intelligence assessment on disinformation circulated through social media, rather than on actual intelligence work. In response to CIES’s perceived shortcomings, a law was proposed that would require all entities part of the country’s intelligence apparatus to continually share information with CIES.17 The law had yet to be passed by the end of the coverage period.
- 1. “Gobierno autoriza rastreo satelital para mejorar vigilancia epidemiológica [Government authorizes satellite tracking to improve epidemiological surveillance],” EcuadorTV, March 17, 2020, https://www.ecuadortv.ec/noticias/covid-19/romo-vigilancia-epidemiologi…-.
- 2. “Ecuador: Las tecnologías de vigilancia en contexto de pandemia no deben poner en riesgo los derechos humanos [Ecuador: Surveillance technologies in the context of a pandemic must not place human rights at risk],” Asociación para el Progreso de las Comunicaciones y Derechos Digitales, March 16, 2020, https://www.apc.org/es/pubs/ecuador-las-tecnologias-de-vigilancia-en-co….
- 3. Interview with Alfredo Velazco, from Usuarios Digitales, conducted on May 26, 2020. Another digital rights activist, who requested anonymity, had made similar comments in a previous interview on May 25, 2020.
- 4. Usuarios Digitales, @usuariodigital, “#Ecuador #CoronaVirus Se lanza #AppSaludEc cuyo objetivo es conocer el estado de salud, vía @Lenin - #Covid_19ec #COVID19ec #Covid19Ecuador,” March 25, 2020, https://twitter.com/usuariosdigital/status/1242852197999751177.
- 5. “Ecuador: Privacy at Risk with Covid-19 Surveillance,” Human Rights Watch, July 1, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/01/ecuador-privacy-risk-covid-19-surve….
- 6. Secretaría General de Comunicación Ecuador, “Informe de Emergencia Sanitaria / MINTEL [Health Emergency Report / MINTEL],” April 13, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=241451166972873&ref=watch_permal….
- 7. “Ecuador: Privacy at Risk with Covid-19 Surveillance,” Human Rights Watch, July 1, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/01/ecuador-privacy-risk-covid-19-surve….
- 8. Usuarios Digitales, @usuariodigital, “@mariapaularomo @MinGobiernoEc considera el tracking de GPS invasivo, inicia explicación de desarrollo de herramienta con bluetooth con estándares de la protección de datos europea #RGPD para que persona sepa con quien se ha contactado [Embbeded video interview with Minister Romo],” April 19, 2020, https://twitter.com/usuariosdigital/status/1251930331768393730.
- 9. National Intelligence Secretariat of Ecuador, “Programación Anual de la Política Pública [Annual Program for Public Policy],” February 11, 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20160327011719/http:/www.inteligencia.gob.e….
- 10. Roberto Aguilar, “La policía política de la Senain vigila a civiles y grupos sociales [The political police of the Senain monitors civilians and social groups],” Ecuador en Vivo, September 20, 2017, http://www.ecuadorenvivo.com/politica/24-politica/66136-la-policia-poli…; “Las perspectivas del cambio en los servicios de inteligencia [Perspectives Of Change In Intelligence Services],” Plan V, October 1, 2018, https://www.planv.com.ec/historias/politica/perspectivas-del-cambio-ser….
- 11. Center for Strategic Intelligence (CIES), “Decreto de creación del Centro de Inteligencia Estratégica [Decree for creation of the Center for Strategic Intelligence],” September 21, 2018, https://www.cies.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Decreto-de-creaci%C3….
- 12. “Lenín Moreno, vía Decreto 526, elimina la Secretaría Nacional de Inteligencia (Senain) [Lenín Moreno, through the Decree 526, eliminates the National Secretariat of Intelligence (Senain)],” El Diario, September 21, 2018, http://www.eldiario.ec/lamarea/noticias-manta-ecuador/483291-Lenín-more….
- 13. National Intelligence Secretariat of Ecuador, “Decreto de creación del Centro de Inteligencia Estratégica [Decree for creation of the Center for Strategic Intelligence],” September 21, 2018, https://www.cies.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Decreto-de-creaci%C3….
- 14. Paul Mozur, Jonah M. Kessel, and Melissa Chan, “Made in China, Exported to the World: The Surveillance State,” The New York Times, April 24, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/24/technology/ecuador-surveillance-came….
- 15. “How China Trains the World’s Autocrats to Surveil Their People | NYT,” The New York Times (Youtube Channel), April 24, 2019, https://youtu.be/p8WAIFatAqw.
- 16. Jun Mai, “Ecuador is fighting crime using Chinese surveillance technology,” South China Morning Post, January 22, 2018, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2129912/ecuad….
- 17. “Ley que fortalece la Inteligencia, represada un año en la Asamblea [Law that strengthens Intelligence, repressed one year in the Assembly],” El Comercio, October 28, 2019, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/ley-inteligencia-represada-asambl….
|Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users?||4.004 6.006|
Under the rules of the Organic Law of Telecommunications, 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.”1 In September 2018, ARCOTEL approved a technical standard for the registration of subscribers or customers of telecommunications services and broadcasting services. This technical norm establishes that services providers must protect personal data in their databases and cannot use such data for any other purpose without explicit informed consent from the customer.2
In September 2019, after a large data breach (see C8), the government hastily introduced a draft of the Organic Law on Personal Data Protection to the National Assembly. The draft was based on two years’ worth of work by the government and resembled the EU’s GDPR.3 The proposed legislation establishes sanctions on unauthorized use of personal data by both public and private entities, and forbids the use of personal data for anything that exceeds the original purpose.4 As of July 2020, the National Assembly had not yet debated the law.5
Judges can compel ISPs by means of a court order to provide communication data to law enforcement agencies. 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. Since 2015, the Subsystem for Interception of Communications or Computer Data (SICOM) of the attorney general’s office allows interception of voice calls and text messages (SMS) of criminal suspects.6
Mobile operators are required to implement technology that would automatically provide the physical location of cellphone users for emergency purposes, within an accuracy range of 50 meters.7
- 1. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Decreto Ejecutivo 864 [Executive Decree 864],” January 25, 2016, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Reglam….
- 2. Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Norma Técnica para el empadronamiento de abonados, suscriptores y clientes de servicios de telecomunicaciones y servicios de radiodifusión por suscripción [Technical standards for the registration of subscribers and customers of Telecom services and broadcast services by subscription],” 2018, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Prop-norma-empadr….
- 3. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Funcionarios de Gobierno Sustentan Proyecto de Ley Orgánica de Protección de Datos Personales [Government Officials Support Draft Organic Law on Protection of Personal Data],” November 13, 2019, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/es/noticia/64164-funcionarios-de-go…; “Ecuador fast-tracks data privacy law after massive breach,” Financial Times, September 20, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/35f9aea0-dbb0-11e9-8f9b-77216ebe1f17; Alexander Fetani, “Ecuador: Data protection bill ‘resembles the GDPR in several aspects’,” One Trust Data Guidance, September 26, 2019, https://www.dataguidance.com/ecuador-data-protection-bill-resembles-the….
- 4. National Assembly of Ecuador, “Proyecto de Ley Orgánica de Protección de Datos Personales - Lenín Moreno, Presidente de la República / T379637 [Organic Law Project on Protection of Personal Data - Lenín Moreno, President of the Republic / T379637],” March 8, 2020, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/sites/default/files/private/asamble….
- 5. “Ecuador: Privacy at Risk with Covid-19 Surveillance,” Human Rights Watch, July 1, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/01/ecuador-privacy-risk-covid-19-surve….
- 6. “La interceptación de llamadas se hace solo bajo la autorización de un juez [Call interception is done only under the authorization of a judge],” Fiscalía General del Estado, July 21, 2015, https://www.fiscalia.gob.ec/la-interceptacion-de-llamadas-se-hace-solo-…
- 7. Integrated Security Service ECU911, “Informe de Gestión Anual 2015 [Annual Management Report 2015],” February 19, 2016, https://issuu.com/ecu911/docs/informe_de_gestion2015; Integrated Security Service ECU911, “Localizador Móvil [Mobile Locator],” [n. d.], https://www.ecu911.gob.ec/localizador-mobil/.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities?||2.002 5.005|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the home of the founder of a Facebook channel, which had reported on a clash between protesters and a mayor, was targeted with an explosion.
Online journalists and activists have generally experienced lower levels of intimidation in recent years, but in February 2020, the founder of Facebook channel VA Televisión, Víctor Aguirre, who has been critical of the city of Naranjal’s mayor, was targeted by an explosion that went off in his house. Though home, he and his wife were uninjured. Earlier, in October 2019, after reporting on a clash between protesters and the mayor, the mayor and his brother threatened Aguirre with “bodily harm.”1 During the same month, the journalist Andrés Mendoza, of Facebook channel Judio TV, received death threats from two unknown men. Mendoza, a resident of Naranjal, had been investigating criminal groups’ smuggling of various goods from Peru.2
- 1. “Explosive device detonated at home of journalist in Ecuador,” Committee to Protect Journalists, February 12, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/02/explosive-device-detonated-at-home-of-journalis….
- 2. “Ecuadorian journalist Andrés Mendoza receives death threat,” Committee to Protect Journalists, February 24, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/02/ecuadorian-journalist-andres-mendoza-receives-d….
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
A few technical attacks have targeted media websites in recent years. In September 2019, the investigative news outlet Periodismo de Investigación was the victim of one that took them offline and may have been related to a report about corruption by government figures. Their website became inaccessible and displayed a phishing alert.1
In September 2019, it was revealed that the majority of Ecuadorians had their personal information exposed on the server of a data analytics company. The government announced that they would launch an investigation.2 Shortly thereafter, the office of the company was raided; the company and its leaders were placed under investigation for infringing on privacy and spreading personal data, as well as to determine how they had procured the data.3 No results from the investigation had been made public as of June 2020.
In August 2019, the Twitter accounts of the Vice Ministry for Export and Investment Promotion (PRO ECUADOR) and the armed forces were hacked. According to the ministry, the PRO ECUADOR account posted content on Twitter aiming to destabilize the Moreno administration.4
- 1. Usuarios Digitales, @usuariosdigital, “#AlertaDigitalEC Portal http://periodismodeinvestigacion.com habría sufrido un 5to ataque en 2 años, según reporta su director @VillaFernando_ en el contexto de publicaciones contra corrupción que involucran personajes del gobierno,” September 3, 2019, https://twitter.com/usuariosdigital/status/1168891108031651841.
- 2. Catalin Cimpanu, “Database leaks data on most of Ecuador’s citizens, including 6.7 million children,” ZeroDayNet, September 16, 2019, https://www.zdnet.com/google-amp/article/database-leaks-data-on-most-of…; Catalin Cimpanu, “Arrest made in Ecuador’s massive databreach,” ZeroDayNet, September 17, 2019, https://www.zdnet.com/article/arrest-made-in-ecuadors-massive-data-brea….
- 3. Catalin Cimpanu, “Arrest made in Ecuador’s massive databreach,” ZeroDayNet, September 17, 2019, https://www.zdnet.com/article/arrest-made-in-ecuadors-massive-data-brea….
- 4. “Ministerio de Producción dice que recuperó la cuenta de Twitter de Pro Ecuador que fue hackeada [Ministry of Production says it recovered the Pro Ecuador Twitter account that was hacked],” El Comercio, August 5, 2019, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/hackeo-cuenta-twitter-proecuador-….
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score65 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score57 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusPartly Free
Social Media Blocked