Ecuador

Partly Free
57
100
A Obstacles to Access 15 25
B Limits on Content 22 35
C Violations of User Rights 20 40
Last Year's Score & Status
61 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free)

header1 Overview

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.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2019 - May 31, 2020

  • 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).

A Obstacles to Access

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.

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 4.004 6.006

Internet access in 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B Limits on Content

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.

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
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.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? 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.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 2.002 4.004

Recent reforms to the Communication Law, enacted in February 2019, seem to promise a less restrictive environment for media outlets. The reforms signal a move away from the punitive system established under Correa’s administration, which was highly politicized and left room for abuse. However, censorship practices linked to murky copyright and privacy complaints have continued to raise concerns. Social media platforms such as Twitter have suspended multiple accounts of media outlets and journalists that published information, often linked to the former Correa administration, and images or videos of Moreno. Whether such suspensions are justified by legitimate violations of the company’s terms of use is often unclear.

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.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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

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

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

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.

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

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

C Violations of User Rights

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.

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

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
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

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
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

Later in the month, the government released the Salud EC App, allowing users to report symptoms of the virus. The digital rights group Usuarios Digitales were troubled by the app’s permission requests, which are unnecessary for its functions. In addition to requiring permissions for GPS location and available Wi-Fi networks, app users must allow access to read, modify, and delete stored content, including multimedia files.4 Moreover, use of the app is contingent on the user providing their name, year of birth, national identity document, and contact information. Though the terms and conditions’ privacy policy ensures that users’ data will not be sold, shared, or distributed without their consent, this condition of use can change at any time at any point.5

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.

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
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

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in 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

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1.001 3.003

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

On Ecuador

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    65 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    57 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

    Yes
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    No
  • Users Arrested

    Yes