Internet freedom continued to improve in Ecuador, bolstered by expanding internet penetration rates and faster speeds, a lack of arrests and charges for online speech, and a decrease in cases of physical violence in retaliation for users’ and journalists’ online activities. Debates around the country’s legal framework regarding online speech have continued; while some concerning provisions have been proposed, President Guillermo Lasso has successfully halted some legislative efforts to introduce penalties for online speech. Though the government did not block or filter political or social content, a state body ordered blocks on websites used to download streaming content.
Elections take place regularly, and some key state institutions have recently displayed greater independence. Freedoms for media and civil society expanded under former president Lenín Moreno, the chosen successor of Rafael Correa. The 2021 elections marked the first time that neither Correa nor his preferred candidate won the presidency in 14 years. Ongoing challenges include official corruption, due process violations, and violence in prisons and during protests.
- Internet penetration rates and fixed broadband speeds continued to improve. The government’s Plan for the Creation of Opportunities 2021–2025 includes goals and policies to further connect underserved and rural populations, such as increasing coverage of 4G and higher technologies (see A1 and A2).
- While the government does not block or filter political or social content, the state intellectual property body ordered the blocking of multiple popular stream ripping websites and sites that facilitated user access to them in July 2021 (see B1).
- The National Assembly held its first debate on a draft bill to replace the 2013 Communication Law—once described as the most serious setback for freedom of the press and expression in Latin America’s recent history—in January 2022. The draft was broadly praised by digital rights groups against online censorship but was rejected by the National Assembly in July 2022, after the coverage period. The Assembly instead approved a widely criticized minority report that significantly modified the bill with problematic provisions for online speech, which President Lasso partially vetoed in August 2022 (see C1).
- President Lasso partially vetoed a bill, in June 2021, that sought to expand some problematic articles in the penal code and introduce others into the legal framework. While some of the more problematic provisions did not consequently become codified in law, penalties carrying prison sentences for online speech remained (see C2).
- While journalists continue to face criminal slander lawsuits for online reporting, and the problematic Ola Bini trial, ongoing since 2019, has still not been resolved, journalists and users were not routinely investigated, arrested, or charged for their online speech (see C3).
- While physical violence in retaliation against journalists reporting online continues to pose a threat, as evidenced by the murder of two digital journalists after the coverage period, journalists and online users did not face similar instances of physical violence during the coverage period. Online harassment and intimidation of critical voices, including death threats, continued (see C7).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||5.005 6.006|
Score Change: The score improved from 4 to 5 due to an increase in internet penetration rates and fixed broadband speeds during the coverage period.
Internet access in Ecuador continued to increase during the coverage period. According to the Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL), 71.75 percent of the population had internet access by December 2021, compared to 56.80 percent five years prior.1
Fixed-line broadband penetration is relatively low, at 14.17 percent as of December 2021.2 According to Speedtest Global Index, the median fixed-line broadband download speed in July 2022 was 42.46 megabits per second (Mbps), and the median upload speed was 38.36 Mbps,3 an increase from the previous year.
Meanwhile, mobile internet penetration stood at 57.58 percent as of December 2021.4 Government data shows that, as of May 2021, 8.92 million out of 16 million active mobile lines were using long-term evolution (LTE) technology.5
The government’s Universal Service Plan for 2018–21 aimed to increase availability and access nationwide, notably by deploying up-to-date technologies such as LTE and fiber-optic networks in previously underserved areas.6 The government’s Plan for the Creation of Opportunities 2021–2025 also includes goals and policies to connect underserved and rural populations, such as increasing coverage of fourth-generation (4G) and higher technologies from 60.74 percent to 92 percent by 2025 (see A2).7
- 1Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” January 2022, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/3.1.1-Cuentas-int…
- 2Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” January 2022, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/3.1.1-Cuentas-int…
- 3Ookla®Speedtest Global Index, “ Ecuador Median Speeds July 2022,” Accessed September 6, 2022, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/ecuador#fixed.
- 4Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” May 2021, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/3.1.1-Cuentas-int…
- 5Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Servicio Móvil Avanzado [Advanced Mobile Service],” May 2021, http://www.arcotel.gob.ec/servicio-movil-avanzado-sma_3/.
- 6Ministry 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….
- 7Ministerio de Telecomunicaciones y de la Sociedad de la Información, “Plan de Servicio Universal 2022-2025,” https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/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|
Internet access has become more affordable in recent years, though average broadband prices remain higher in Ecuador than in many countries in the region. A monthly broadband internet subscription cost an average of $35.00 in 2022, down from $43.87 in 2019.1 The average cost of 1 gigabyte (GB) of mobile data fell to $1.00 in 2022, down from $6.93 in 2019.2 The minimum wage was $425 per month in 2022.3
Socioeconomic and geographic disparities in internet access persist in Ecuador. Underserved zones are mostly in the Amazon region, but other areas lacking infrastructure include the southern mountains, the coastline, and the Galapagos Islands. According to baseline statistics compiled for the government's Internet for All plan in 2019, around 38 percent of the country’s parishes lack a mobile internet connection, and only 16 percent of parishes have 4G connectivity.4
There is a significant divide in internet access between urban and rural households. As of December 2020, access in urban households stood at 61.7 percent, while access in rural households stood at 34.7 percent. The divide narrows when looking at individual users, however: 77.11 percent of individuals living in urban areas reported using the internet in 2020, as opposed to 56.90 percent of individuals living in rural areas.5 Fixed-line subscriptions remain concentrated in two provinces with higher levels of urbanization: Guayas (29 percent of subscriptions) and Pichincha (30 percent), as of December 2021.6
The government has introduced initiatives to narrow disparities in access. State-run “Infocentros” provide free internet in rural areas.7 As of August 2021, there were 886 Infocentros and 25 larger “Megainfocentros” covering 755 rural and underserved urban parishes, or over 50 percent of all parishes.8 In September 2022, the government announced that, as of the 2021 start of the Lasso administration, it had invested just under $10 million to provide connectivity to 53 parishes without access to mobile internet, benefitting 332,000 people. The government also announced the existence of 6,000 free Wi-Fi points across the country.9
- 1“Global broadband pricing league table 2022,” Cable.co.uk, accessed September 6, 2022, https://www.cable.co.uk/broadband/pricing/worldwide-comparison/
- 2“Worldwide mobile data pricing 2022,” Cable.co.uk, accessed September 6, 2022, https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/.
- 3“Ecuador Sets Basic Minimum Salary for 2022 — Orbitax Tax News & Alerts,” Orbitax, December 29, 2021, https://www.orbitax.com/news/archive.php/Ecuador-Sets-Basic-Minimum-Sal…
- 4Andrea 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….
- 5National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), “Tecnologías de la Información y Comunicación - TIC,” accessed September 7, 2022, https://www.ecuadorencifras.gob.ec/documentos/web-inec/Estadisticas_Soc…
- 6Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” January 2022, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/3.1.1-Cuentas-int…
- 7Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Association (MINTEL), “Infocentros Comunitarios [Community Infocenters],” December 27, 2019, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/infocentros-comunitarios/
- 8Ministry 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/.
- 9“332.000 personas de 53 parroquias ahora cuentan con internet 4G gracias al Gobierno del Encuentro [332,000 people from 53 parishes now have 4G internet thanks to the Government of the Meeting],” Ministerio de Telecomunicaciones y de la Sociedad de la Información, September 2, 2022, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/332-000-personas-de-53-parroquias…
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||6.006 6.006|
There were no internet disruptions in Ecuador during the coverage period and no evidence of throttling or network shutdowns. Social media and communications and video streaming platforms remained readily available.
However, disruptions to internet access have occurred in the past. Amid mass protests in October 2019, government-owned internet service provider (ISP) National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) experienced general connectivity disruptions and disrupted access to Facebook and WhatsApp (see B1 and B8).1 For a brief period later that month, mobile service provider Claro allegedly imposed connectivity interruptions across large swathes of the country and in Quito.2
Concern over the potential for further future restrictions briefly emerged after the coverage period, though they were quickly allayed by the government. On June 17, 2022, amid nationwide protests, President Lasso declared a state of emergency in three provinces. The draft order that circulated immediately thereafter sparked criticism from civil society, press freedom advocates, and ordinary users for its inclusion of an article with potential to restrict freedom of information and expression by allowing the government to restrict fixed, mobile, and internet telecommunications services (see B1). The following day, the government published the official decree, which omitted the controversial article.3
Ecuador’s physical infrastructure is not highly centralized. Three submarine cables provide connection to the global internet, with construction beginning on two additional undersea cable projects (the Carnival Submarine Network-1 [CSN-1], which will connect Ecuador and the United States, with landing points in Panama in Colombia, and the Galapagos Cable System, which will connect Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands) beginning during the coverage period.4 Three major ISPs—two of which are private—control their own national infrastructure.5
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.6 Civil society groups have raised concerns over the provision’s scope and the possibility for government abuse due to the vague standards of the law and the lack of independent or impartial oversight.7
- 1Veridiana Alimonti, “Protests and Technology in Latin America: 2019 in Review,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, December 24, 2019, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/12/protests-and-technology-latin-ame…; “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“Estado de Excepción en Ecuador restringe el derecho a la información [State of Exception in Ecuador restricts the right to information],” Fundamedios, June 18, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/estado-de-excepcion-en-ecuador-r…; Patrick Peralta, “Gobierno se retracta con decreto que restringía derecho a la información [Government retracts with decree that restricted right to information],” Radio Pichincha, June 18, 2022, https://www.pichinchacomunicaciones.com.ec/gobierno-se-retracta-con-dec…
- 4“Telconet & ASN announce the start of Carnival Submarine Network-1 (CSN-1) Construction,” Alcatel Submarine Networks, March 28, 2022, https://web.asn.com/press-release/2022-03-28-CSN1.html; “Construction On The Galapagos Cable System Has Begun By GCS Pte. Ltd. and Xtera,” Submarine Telecoms Forum, October 1, 2021, https://subtelforum.com/construction-on-the-galapagos-cable-system-has-…
- 5Andre Lucena, “Submarine cables: map shows all connections in Latin America,” Olhar Digital, March 19, 2021. https://olhardigital.com.br/en/2021/03/19/internet-e-redes-sociais/cabo…
- 6National Assembly of Ecuador, “Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones [Organic Law of Telecommunications],” February 12, 2015, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2016….
- 7Katitza 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 ISPs covering more than 70 percent of the market, with hundreds of smaller ISPs covering the rest. The state-owned CNT holds 25.82 percent of the market share of fixed-line services as of December 2021, followed by Megadatos (24.83 percent), Conecel (Claro) (12.31 percent), and Setel (9.92 percent). Mobile service providers, on the other hand, are an oligopoly: Conecel (Claro) holds 56.04 percent of the market, followed by Otecel (Movistar) with 31.31 percent, and CNT with 12.64 percent.1
A January 2019 report from the country’s general comptroller investigated concessions awarded to Telconet to build a submarine cable and found irregularities in the process.2 The report was referred to the attorney general’s office to undertake a criminal investigation.3 Audio leaks released by 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.4 The investigation appeared to be ongoing as of the end of the coverage period.5
- 1Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency (ARCOTEL), “Cuentas y usuarios del servicio de acceso a internet [Subscriptions and users of the internet access service],” January 2022, https://www.arcotel.gob.ec/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/3.1.1-Cuentas-int…
- 2General 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….
- 3“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….
- 4“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….
- 5Roberto 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|
Created by the 2015 Organic Law of Telecommunications, ARCOTEL is linked to the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Society (MINTEL) 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 director-level turnover, with eight changes in leadership between 2017 and 2020.3 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 In March 2020, Ricardo Freire Granja—who held office between January 2019 and March 2020—was fired for delaying the schedule for the allocation of radio and television frequencies for almost a year.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 public assistance to develop public and private Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT); the local internet exchange point (NAP.ec), managed by AEPROVI, an association of ISPs; and the Ecuadorian IPv6 Task Force, among others. The allocation of digital assets—such as domain names or internet protocol (IP) addresses, which are designated by NIC.ec—is not controlled by the government.6 The 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 2020. SUPERCOM was highly criticized for acting as a tool for political censorship.7
- 1National 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….
- 2Leticia 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….
- 4Patricia 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/noticias/ecuador/cambian-director-arcotel-que-…
- 5“Nuevo director en la Agencia de Telecomunicaciones [New director at the Telecommunications Agency],” El Universo, March 13, 2020, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2020/03/13/nota/7779873/nuevo-direc…
- 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….
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||5.005 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 6 to 5 because the state intellectual property body ordered the blocking of popular stream ripping websites in July 2021.
Systematic blocking or filtering of content is not common in Ecuador. There were no reports of technical blocking of social media platforms, communication apps, blog-hosting platforms, or discussion forums during the coverage period. Likewise, there were no reports of blocking of tools for anonymization of navigation or circumvention of censorship.
However, in July 2021, the government’s intellectual property agency, National Service of Intellectual Rights (SENADI), ordered ISPs to block a number of popular sites used for stream ripping, or downloading content from a streaming platform for offline use without permission. The order, which affected y2mate.com and mp3-youtube.download, among others, also applied to sites that facilitate access to those ordered blocked, redirecting users who attempt to access any site subject to the order to an educational landing page.1
In October 2019, CNT did disrupt its content delivery network and backend image servers following the death of a protester. These servers allow for the circulation of audio, images, and videos, and fixed-line internet users were briefly unable to share such content via WhatsApp and Facebook.2 SENADI’s national copyright directorate had also instructed providers to block some URLs and IPs earlier that summer for violating transmission rights and copyright infringement.3
Concern over the potential for recurring restrictions briefly emerged after the coverage period following the circulation of a draft state of emergency order, though the government quickly retracted the article that had sparked such fears (see A3). The draft order declared by Lasso amid nationwide protests in June 2022 included an article that empowered the government to limit the publication and circulation of classified information online by media outlets and over social networks. The following day, the government published the official decree, which omitted the controversial article.4
- 1International Intellectual Property Alliance, “IIPA 2022 Special 301 Report On Copyright Protection And Enforcement,” January 31, 2022, https://www.iipa.org/files/uploads/2022/01/2022-SPEC301-3.pdf
- 2“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….
- 3Valentina 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…; “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….”
- 4“Estado de Excepción en Ecuador restringe el derecho a la información [State of Exception in Ecuador restricts the right to information],” Fundamedios, June 18, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/estado-de-excepcion-en-ecuador-r…; Patrick Peralta, “Gobierno se retracta con decreto que restringía derecho a la información [Government retracts with decree that restricted right to information],” Radio Pichincha, June 18, 2022, https://www.pichinchacomunicaciones.com.ec/gobierno-se-retracta-con-dec…
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
Under former president Correa, copyright law was frequently used to censor politically sensitive content online.1 This practice eased considerably, but not completely, under former president Moreno. President Lasso has not engaged in similar abuses since his term began.2
During the previous coverage period, in July 2020, the president’s office, through Iomart Group PLC, a UK firm, requested the removal of five news reports from the media outlet La Historia, ostensibly due to copyright violations for the use of photographs of Moreno and other government officials that belonged to the presidency and the communication secretary. The stories in question referred to Moreno’s daughter’s position in the Ecuadorian foreign service, political negotiations, accusations of corruption involving allies of the governing coalition, corruption investigations in the health sector, and a report on another takedown request by the presidency made months earlier for a video on La Historia’s Twitter account.5 Ecuador’s ombudsman ordered the Communications Secretariat to withdraw the suit shortly thereafter, condemning the arbitrary use of copyright law by public institutions as censorship.6
- 1Maira 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],” 4 Pelagatos, February 4, 2020, https://4pelagatos.com/2020/02/04/la-presidencia-demanda-a-4pelagatos/; “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…; “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…
- 3“Twitter suspende cuenta de medio digital comunitario de Ecuador por denunciar que una periodista fue agredida por la Policía en la marcha del 8M [Twitter suspends account of a digital community media outlet in Ecuador for denouncing that a journalist was attacked by the Police in the 8M march],” Observacom, March 9, 2022, https://www.observacom.org/twitter-suspende-cuenta-de-medio-digital-com…
- 4“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, accessed March 6, 2020, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/twitter-leninmoreno-derechos-dig…; “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…; “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….; 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…; 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
- 5“Gobierno contrata empresa en Reino Unido para censurar a La Historia [Government hires a company in the United Kingdom to censor La Historia],” La Historia, July 23, 2020, https://www.lahistoria.ec/2020/07/23/gobierno-contrata-empresa-en-reino…
- 6“Piden a Presidencia de Ecuador retirar demandas por copyright sobre imágenes públicas [They ask the Presidency of Ecuador to withdraw copyright lawsuits on public images],” Portal Diverso, July 27, 2020, https://portaldiverso.com/piden-a-presidencia-de-ecuador-retirar-demand…; “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….
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||2.002 4.004|
Reforms to the Communication Law, enacted in February 2019, seemed to promise a less restrictive environment for media outlets. The reform signaled a move away from the punitive system established under the Correa administration, which was highly politicized and prone to abuse.
A significant element of the Communication Law reforms was the elimination of SUPERCOM. Under the Correa 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 removed digital media and content providers’ liability over user comments while upholding their responsibility over editorial content published by uncredited authors.2
ARCOTEL is still authorized to block internet domains that violate national laws. ARCOTEL’s agenda for 2019 included the development of a technical norm that would add more transparency by outlining blocking and notification procedures to be followed by the regulator, though the development of this norm appears to still be pending.3 There are currently no efficient and timely avenues of appeal for content subject to censorship.
- 1Silvia 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….
- 2National 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….
- 3Telecommunications 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 and government abuses of power has increased in recent years. News related to drug trafficking and armed groups on the northern border with Colombia must be treated with special care.
Despite lower levels of self-censorship by individuals, coverage of sensitive events has been found to vary between traditional mass media and independent digital outlets. Researchers found, for instance, that reporting on the October 2019 protests followed a government narrative in the former, while the latter tended to cover events from the perspectives of the protesters.1
- 1Jose 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, https://www.pichinchacomunicaciones.com.ec/hay-un-cerco-y-un-circo-medi…
|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|
Pro-government trolling, harassment of critics, and punitive media restrictions were particularly prevalent under former president Correa. Government-led manipulation tactics have since eased, though networks of fake accounts have continued to inauthentically influence online debate.
Coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB) targeting Ecuadorian audiences sometimes seeks to influence public debate, including during the coverage period. In December 2021, Meta reported that it had removed 12 Facebook accounts, 172 Facebook Pages, and 11 Instagram accounts for violating the platform’s policy on CIB. The network primarily originated in Mexico and was linked to a Mexican PR firm and targeted users in Ecuador as well as a number of Central American countries. The network would use both authentic and fake accounts to post links to websites posing as independent news outlets, the people involved in the network writing mainly in Spanish about current events in Latin America.1
In August 2022, after the coverage period, fact-checking platform Cazadores de Fake News reported on Twitter’s suspension of a botnet operation composed of 491 fake accounts for engaging in CIB in support of Lasso between January and July 2022. The accounts amplified tweets posted by Lasso in a largely coordinated and automated or semiautomated way and were found to be associated with a group identified as Red de Tuiteros Democráticos (Network of Democratic Tweeters). Most of the accounts were created en masse; for instance, 180 were created over a four-day period in April.2
Similar activity has been observed around national elections. During the previous coverage period, inauthentic activity and disinformation campaigns relating to the February 2021 electoral period were noted in the months surrounding the vote. In March 2021, Facebook removed a network of 390 Facebook accounts, 6 pages, and 17 Instagram accounts targeting Ecuador and originating in Spain and Argentina. Though their authentic followings were small, their content mainly involved the 2021 presidential election, including allegations of corruption and general criticism of candidate Andrés Arauz.3 High rates of engagement with Ecuadorian electoral Twitter content originating in Venezuela were also recorded during the electoral run-up. Elector Ecuador, which describes itself as a citizen initiative, noted evidence of eight Twitter campaigns against then presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso and one such Twitter campaign against Arauz created in Venezuela.4 The nonprofit ProBox reported 36 trending topics in Venezuela that referred to the Ecuadorian elections, some of which featured suggestions of inauthentic activity.5 Disinformation campaigns about both candidates spread on WhatsApp around this period.6
In July 2020, Facebook removed a network of accounts that had been particularly active in Ecuador during the 2017 presidential campaign period and had continued to produce content about Ecuadorian politics and the country’s COVID-19 response throughout April 2020, for violating their foreign-interference policy.7 Facebook found that the network, whose account activities originated in Canada and Ecuador and mainly targeted El Salvador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Chile, had links to political consultants and former government employees in Ecuador and a Canadian public-relations firm known as Estraterra.8
Efforts to counteract electoral disinformation have regularly emerged from both civil society and government actors. Ahead of the February 2021 electoral round, for instance, the Ecuador Verifica initiative—comprised of various media, academic, and civil society organizations—was created with the purpose of combating misinformation and fact-checking presidential candidates.9 In July 2022, after the coverage period, an agreement was announced between the National Electoral Council (CNE); Ecuador Verifica; and press freedom organization Fundamedios to hold joint workshops on digital literacy and robust coverage in electoral contexts.10
Aside from manipulation that has unfolded in electoral contexts, a March 2020 investigation by media outlet Código Vidrio alleged that the COVID-19 pandemic was exploited by Correa and his supporters to orchestrate coordinated disinformation campaigns. A series of 13 disinformation campaigns included fabricated content showing corpses on city streets and mass graves being dug in the city of 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.11
- 1Meta, “December 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report,” December 2021, https://about.fb.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/December-2021-Coordinat…
- 2“#BotnetGL: Twitter suspendió 491 cuentas de botnet ecuatoriana [#BotnetGL: Twitter suspended 491 Ecuadorian botnet accounts],” Cazadores de Fake News, August 9, 2022, https://www.cazadoresdefakenews.info/botnetgl-twitter-suspendio-491-cue…
- 3“March 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report,” Facebook, https://about.fb.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/March-2021-CIB-Report.p…
- 4Elector Ecuador, @ElectorEcuador, “#Elecciones2021EC En @Twitter en Venezuela se crearon tendencias sobre candidatos de #Elecciones2021EC [# Elecciones2021EC In @Twitter in Venezuela trends were created on candidates of # Elecciones2021EC],” April 12, 2021, https://twitter.com/ElectorEcuador/status/1381704910362832904
- 5Marivi Marín Vázquez, @marivimarinv, “En marzo registramos al menos 36 tendencias sobre Ecuador en Twitter Venezuela, hay cierto porcentaje de coincidencia de usuarios “tropa” del MIPPCI y al menos 10 etiquetas tienen el tweet de origen borrado. ¿Propaganda al candidato de Correa? [In March we registered at least 36 trends about Ecuador on Twitter Venezuela, there is a certain percentage of coincidence of “troop” users of the MIPPCI and at least 10 labels have the origin tweet deleted. Propaganda for Correa's candidate?],” April 14, 2021, https://twitter.com/marivimarinv/status/1382500187390771205
- 6Usuarios Digitales, @usariosdigital, “#Elecciones2021EC #ObservaciónElectoral 2da Vuelta. [#Elecciones2021EC #ObservaciónElectoral 2nd round]”, April 14, 2021, https://twitter.com/usuariosdigital/status/1382428555074764802
- 7“Facebook takes down inauthentic assets targeting multiple Latin American elections,” DFRLab, July 8, 2020, https://medium.com/dfrlab/facebook-takes-down-inauthentic-assets-target…
- 8Nathaniel Gleicher, “Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior,” Facebook, July 8, 2020, https://about.fb.com/news/2020/07/removing-political-coordinated-inauth…; “Tres exfuncionarios de Rafael Correa crearon Estraterra S.A., vetada ahora por Facebook [Three former Rafael Correa officials created Estraterra S.A., now vetoed by Facebook],” El Universo, July 8, 2020, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2020/07/08/nota/7899543/estraterra-…
- 9“Quiénes Somos,” Ecuador Verifica, http://ecuadorverifica.org/quienes-somos/
- 10“CNE, Ecuador Verifica y Fundamedios capacitarán a periodistas en materia electoral y lucha contra la desinformación [CNE, Ecuador Verifica and Fundamedios will train journalists in electoral matters and fight against disinformation],” Fundamedios, July 29, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/cne-ecuador-verifica-y-fundamedios-capac…
- 11“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/.
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||2.002 3.003|
The 2019 reforms to the Communication Law maintained the Article 6 ban on foreign ownership of media in Ecuador. Financial corporations and their shareholders are also banned from making media investments under Article 312 of the constitution and Article 256 of the Organic Monetary and Financial Code.1 As of August 2020, foreign providers of digital services, including news outlets and social media platforms, must pay value-added tax of 12 percent.2
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 content, websites, or apps. Nonetheless, there is no evidence that ISPs are operating in a way that might violate net neutrality.
- 1National 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.
- 2Servicio de Recaudación de Impuestos, “Registro, Declaración y Pago de IVA por parte de prestadores de servicios digitales no residentes. [Registration, Declaration and Payment of VAT by non-resident digital service providers],” https://www.sri.gob.ec/web/guest/registro-declaracion-y-pago-del-iva-pr…
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 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 virtual private networks (VPNs) or other circumvention tools to access online news. Limited funds for independent media and a history of censorship have contributed to domination by the digital versions of traditional outlets in the online sphere, such as the websites for popular outlets El Comercio and El Universo.1
Nonetheless, small independent digital media outlets like Gk.city and Mil Hojas have become influential because of their investigative reporting. There are some digital media outlets, including blogs, that focus on matters affecting the Indigenous population. Recent initiatives like Lanceros Digitales, a communication collective of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONAIE), seek to reach communities that are underserved by traditional media and report on their realities using digital platforms.2 Indigenous groups have also amassed significant social media followings. CONAIE’s Facebook page, for instance, had over 560,000 followers as of September 2022.3 Outlets devoted to Indigenous communities still tend to publish content in Spanish, rather than in Indigenous languages, which remains an obstacle.
- 1“Top Sites in Ecuador,” Alexa, accessed on July 29, 2021, https://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/EC.
- 2“Lanceros Digitales,” https://confeniae.net/campanas; “Eslendy Grefa from Ecuador: ‘Yes, indigenous women can do this!’,” DW Akademie, January 4, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/eslendy-grefa-from-ecuador-yes-indigenous-women-c…; “DW Akademie in Ecuador,” DW Akademie, November 6, 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/dw-akademie-in-ecuador/a-18558570
- 3“Conaie Ecuador,” Facebook, accessed September 7, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/conaie.org/about/
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||5.005 6.006|
There are no legal restrictions around digital advocacy or online communities, and social media has continued to serve as a social-mobilization tool in Ecuador.
During the coverage period, Indigenous communities used social media to mobilize offline protests, in part around a hike in fuel prices. In October 2021, CONAIE effectively tweeted calls for national mobilization in the Costa, Sierra, and Amazon regions.1 CONAIE continued to use Twitter to mobilize protests and voice demands throughout the coverage period and beyond, in May 2022 and during mass mobilizations against Lasso’s economic and social policies in June 2022.2
In recent years, there have also been waves of social media activism around women’s rights. Users have turned to Facebook and Twitter to express indignation about femicide and gender-based violence (GBV) and to advocate for the legalization of abortion in specific instances.3 During 2019 debates in the National Assembly about the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape, for instance, the use of the hashtag #AbortoPorViolacion (abortion in case of rape) proliferated on social media. Though decriminalization was initially voted down, the Constitutional Court eventually ruled to decriminalize pregnancies resulting from rape in April 2021.4
Connectivity disruptions have prevented information sharing during protests in the past. Users were briefly prevented from sharing photographs, images, and audio recordings via WhatsApp and Facebook during October 2019 demonstrations because of disruptions (see A3 and B1). Members of the press also found themselves attacked by police while covering the same protests.5 However, Ecuadorians were ultimately able to use Twitter and Facebook extensively to express opinions and call for action.
- 1Ni fu, ni fa !El debate acá!, @eldebateec, “#ATENCIÓN La CONAIE CONVOCA A MOVILIZACIÓN NACIONAL EL 26 DE OCTUBRE.El Movimiento Indígena anunció acciones de movilización social y resistencia en las siguientes regions: Costa, Sierra y Amazonía. #ParoNacional #CONAIE [#ATENCIÓN CONAIE CALLS FOR A NATIONAL MOBILIZATION ON OCTOBER 26. The Indigenous Movement announced actions of social mobilization and resistance in the following regions: Costa, Sierra and Amazon. #ParoNacional #CONAIE],” https://twitter.com/eldebateec/status/1452672215330271244; Vincent Ricci, “Dozens arrested as Indigenous people lead mass Ecuador protests,” Aljazeera, October 26, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/26/indigenous-lead-protest-again…
- 2CONAIE, @CONAIE_Ecuador, “Informe a la nación desde la realidad de los pueblos y organizaciones, una mirada a los 200 años de independencia. Invitamos a ser parte de este evento democrático, incluyente y participativo desde el poder popular. Martes 24 de mayo 10:00 Quito, @CasadelaCultura #EnUnidad [Inform the nation from the reality of the peoples and organizations, a look at 200 years of independence. We invite you to be part of this democratic, inclusive and participatory event from popular power. Tuesday May 24 10:00 Quito, @CasadelaCultura #EnUnidad],” May 23, 2022, https://twitter.com/CONAIE_Ecuador/status/1528734025896042502; Alexandra Valencia, “Hundreds of indigenous protesters enter Ecuador capital Quito,” Reuters, June 20, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/hundreds-indigenous-protesters-e…
- 3#JusticiaPorPaola #JusticiaDeGénero, January 28, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=159276498821939; #Justiciaparapaola https://twitter.com/hashtag/justiciaparapaola?lang=en; Gabriela Barzallo, “Todos Somos Martha [We are all Martha]: Ecuadorians Protest Gender Violence, Femicide, and Xenophobia,” Latin Dispatch, March 27, 2019, https://latindispatch.com/2019/03/27/todos-somos-martha-ecuadorians-pro…
- 4“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…; “Ecuador: Criminalizing Abortion Affects Rights, Health,” Human Rights Watch, July 14, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/14/ecuador-criminalizing-abortion-affe…
- 5“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….
|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|
The Ecuadorian legal framework has undergone significant change since the Correa era that have rendered it more favorable to online freedom of expression. The 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).
A 2013 Communication Law—which originally included restrictive provisions for media that were used to muzzle and harass journalists and outlets—continued to be the subject of longstanding debate during the coverage period. President Lasso announced his intention to repeal the law upon his inauguration in May 2021 and proposed a draft law to replace it later that month. Following a series of legislative proposals and civil society critiques, the International Relations and Human Mobility Commission of the National Assembly proposed the Draft Organic Law for the Guarantee, Promotion, and Protection of Freedom of the Press, Opinion, Expression, and Communication, on which the National Assembly held its first debate in January 2022.1 The draft included provisions for free expression online and net neutrality and protections against online censorship, but it was criticized by digital rights groups for, among other things, lacking a clear definition of “digital” media.2
During the second round of debate in July 2022, after the coverage period, the National Assembly rejected the Commission’s majority report, which had been prepared with input from various stakeholders and included proposals by the president and assembly members. In its stead, the National Assembly approved a minority report that significantly modified the draft bill, to intense criticism from government officials and civil society. Labelling it a new gag law containing the same violations of free expression as the 2013 law, digital rights and press freedom organizations condemned the approved bill’s possible abuse by executive powers. They warned against its potential to criminalize expression by expanding sanctions for violations of the law, its elimination of opinion as a form of expression, its empowerment of state actors as arbiters of truth in the face of disinformation, and its lack of protections for journalists.3 Many of the problematic sanctions were criticized for lacking precise definitions of allegedly offending content. New articles that prohibit the dissemination of false, violent, or discriminatory content, for instance, either do not or very broadly define these offenses. The law does not describe what the sanctions for violations would be.4
A number of free press and civil society organizations, including Fundamedios and the National Federation of Journalists of Ecuador (FENAPE), called on the president to fully veto the law in July and August 2022.5 Lasso partially vetoed the law on August 24, 2022, citing the need to modify the proposed text to safeguard free expression and to meet the highest international standards. Press freedom advocates voiced dissatisfaction at his decision, decrying the bill as broadly seeking to control and sanction the media even without the vetoed articles. The partial veto afforded the National Assembly 30 days to either insist upon the approval of the original text or accept the president’s modifications.6
The 2013 Communication Law was also the subject of debate in the previous coverage period concerning its categorization of communication media as a public service, which the National Assembly did in 2015 in an amendment of Article 384. The move drew criticism for its potential to undermine freedom of expression and open the way for broad media regulation.7 Though the Constitutional Court nullified the amendments in August 2018,8 reforms to Article 5 in 2019 maintained the media’s public-service role.9 Moreno sent the National Assembly a partial reform to that article in January 2019, removing the public-service characterization and reinstating communication as a right.10 The National Assembly, in December 2020, approved a reform to Article 5 limiting the definition of communication media to radio, television, and press, and their associated internet domains before ratifying it in January 2021.11
Several restrictive provisions contained in the 2013 Communication Law were previously reformed in February 2019.12 Important changes included the elimination of the mandatory media code of conduct (Article 10) and the prohibition on media lynching, which was used to prevent journalists from investigating corruption. Furthermore, SUPERCOM, which oversaw compliance, was eliminated. However, the office of the audience ombudsman—an important resource to which citizens appealed when discriminatory content was published—was disbanded under these reforms.13
- 1“Ecuador: Amnesty Granted To 268 Rights Defenders and Protesters,” CIVICUS, March 30, 2022, https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-…; “Presidente de Ecuador envió a la Asamblea Nacional proyecto para una nueva Ley de Comunicación [President of Ecuador sent to the National Assembly a project for a new Communication Law],” Observacom, May 27, 2021, https://www.observacom.org/presidente-de-ecuador-envio-a-la-asamblea-na…; “Sector comunitario de Ecuador advierte enormes retrocesos en el proyecto de la nueva Ley de Comunicación de Lasso [Community sector of Ecuador warns of enormous setbacks in the project of the new Communication Law of Lasso],” Observacom, June 2, 2021, https://www.observacom.org/sector-comunitario-de-ecuador-advierte-enorm…
- 2Mayra Osorio, “Ecuador hacia una nueva ley de libertad de prensa, opinión y expression [Ecuador towards a new law on freedom of the press, opinion and expression],” Derechos Digitales, February 18, 2022, https://www.derechosdigitales.org/17888/ecuador-hacia-una-nueva-ley-de-…
- 3J. Carlos Lara, “Los límites para la libertad de prensa en Ecuador [The limits to freedom of the press in Ecuador],” Derechos Digitales, August 19, 2021, https://www.derechosdigitales.org/19220/los-limites-para-la-libertad-de…
- 4“Asamblea: Los puntos de la polémica reforma a la Ley de Comunicación [Assembly: The points of the controversial reform to the Communication Law,]” Primicias, accessed September 26, 2022, https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/politica/claves-polemica-reforma-ley-…
- 5"Gremios de medios y periodistas apoyan al presidente de Ecuador en su intención de vetar la reforma a la Ley Orgánica de Comunicación [Media unions and journalists support the president of Ecuador in his intention to veto the reform of the Organic Law of Communication],” Observacom, July 29, 2022, https://www.observacom.org/gremios-de-medios-y-periodistas-apoyan-al-pr…; “Múltiples voces en Ecuador exigen al Presidente un VETO TOTAL a la nueva ‘Ley Mordaza’ [Multiple voices in Ecuador demand from the President a TOTAL VETO to the new 'Gag Law'],” Fundamedios, August 15, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/multiples-voces-en-ecuador-exigen-al-pre…
- 6“Ecuador veta parcialmente reformas a ley de comunicación [Ecuador partially vetoes reforms to the communication law],“ Associated Press, August 24, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/noticias-c20c381584a84b1f0b2590122c156d4f
- 7John 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-….
- 8“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…
- 9“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…
- 10“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….
- 11Roger Velez, “Ejecutivo objeta reforma a Ley de Comunicación y apunta a plataformas digitales [Executive objects to reform of the Communication Law and points to digital platforms],” El Comercio, January 5, 2021, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/ejecutivo-objeta-reforma-ley-comu…; Roger Velez, “La Asamblea Nacional se ratifica en reforma a Ley de Comunicación y rechaza regular medios digitales [The National Assembly ratifies the reform of the Communication Law and rejects the regulation of digital media],” El Comercio, January 26, 2021, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/asamblea-ratifica-reforma-ley-com…
- 12National Assembly of Ecuador, “Ley Orgánica Reformatoria a la ley Orgánica de Comunicación [Amendment of the Organic Law of Communication],” February 20, 2019, .
- 13Ana 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/contexto/claves-para-entender-reformas-ley-comunicacion…
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
While former president Moreno reformed legislation that penalized various online activities, penal-code provisions that affect online speech remain. President Lasso successfully halted some legislative efforts to introduce even stricter reforms during the coverage period.
Penal-code changes that entered into force in August 2014 eliminated criminal charges for insult but retained them for slander and libel.1 Article 182 maintains penalties ranging from 6 months to 2 years imprisonment for slander in the form of a false criminal accusation.2 Article 396 of the penal code notably punishes expressions that “discredit or dishonor” with imprisonment of 15 to 30 days (see C3). 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 another’s intimacy or privacy, 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 June 2021, President Lasso partially vetoed a bill that sought to expand some of the problematic articles in the penal code and introduce others into the legal framework.3 In May 2021, a majority of legislators approved the Law to Prevent and Combat Digital Sexual Violence and Strengthen the Fight against Computer Crimes.4 Though the bill aimed to protect women and children from online GBV, it raised alarms for civil society and media organizations, who viewed multiple provisions as threats to free speech and uninhibited reporting.5 Articles 11 and 16 of the Digital Violence Law—which would expand the already-restrictive Articles 179 and 396 of the penal code, respectively—were of particular concern. The former would establish heightened penalties of one to three years for those found guilty of “divulging secrets” in the form of personal digital content, such as messages, photographs, or videos.6 Like the existing provision, the proposed reform did not contain a public-interest exception.7 The proposed reform to Article 396 would extend existing penalties for “expressions that discredit or dishonor” to those expressed over information and communication technologies.8
The National Assembly agreed with many of Lasso’s objections in July 2021.9 Consequently, some of the more problematic provisions did not ultimately become codified when the modified law was published in the official gazette in August 2021. A public-interest exception was added, for instance, to Article 179 of the penal code. However, Article 396 retained the proposed penalties for digitally discrediting or dishonoring others, and prison sentences ranging from six months to one year are included for those who repeatedly “annoy, disturb, or distress” another through digital means.10
- 1Ministry 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…
- 2Sara Chaco, “Defamation and libel laws in Ecuador,” Cuenca High Life, January 1, 2022, https://cuencahighlife.com/defamation-in-ecuador-ecuadorian-libel-law-o…
- 3For more information on the background and development of the law, see: “Qué es la violencia sexual digital y el ciberacoso, conductas que se tipifican en proyecto de ley por abordar [What is digital sexual violence and cyberbullying, behaviors that are typified in the bill to be addressed],” El Universo, November 10, 2020. https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2020/11/10/nota/8043397/propuesta-n…; Ana Belén Rosero, “Asamblea tramita proyecto de ley para sancionar la violencia sexual digital [Assembly admits bill to sanction digital sexual violence],” El Comercio, October 19, 2020, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/asamblea-ley-violencia-sexual-dig…; “Justicia unifica proyectos en materia de prevención del acoso digital y de tipificación de delitos de sexting y hostigamiento [Justice unifies projects on the prevention of digital harassment and the definition of crimes of sexting and harassment],” National Assembly, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/es/noticia/70645-justicia-unifica-p…; “Ecuador se ubica a la vanguardia en la lucha contra la violencia sexual digital y los delitos informáticos [Ecuador is at the forefront in the fight against digital sexual violence and cybercrime],” National Assembly, May 6, 2021, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/es/noticia/71773-ecuador-se-ubica-l…
- 4“Ecuadorian congress passes ‘digital violence’ bill that threatens press freedom,” Committee to Protect Journalists, May 11, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/05/ecuadorian-congress-passes-digital-violence-bil…
- 5Martina Rapido Ragozzino and Deborah Brown, “Tackling Digital Violence in Ecuador Shouldn’t Endanger Free Speech,” Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/08/tackling-digital-violence-ecuador-s…
- 6Asamblea Nacional, Proyecto De Ley Orgánica Reformatoria Del Código Orgánico Integral Penal Para Prevenir Y Combatir La Violencia Sexual Digital Y Fortalecer La Lucha Contra Los Delitos Informáticos [Draft organic law reformation of the comprehensive organic criminal code to prevent and combat digital sexual violence and strengthen the fight against computer crime], May 10, 2021, https://www.fielweb.com/App_Themes/InformacionInteres/Nuevo_aprobado_Vi…
- 7Martina Rapido Ragozzino and Deborah Brown, “Tackling Digital Violence in Ecuador Shouldn’t Endanger Free Speech,” Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/08/tackling-digital-violence-ecuador-s…
- 8“Reformas al COIP por violencia sexual digital toparon temas sobre libertad de expresión [Reforms to the COIP for digital sexual violence raised issues on freedom of expression],” El Universo, May 7, 2021, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/politica/reformas-al-coip-por-viole…
- 9“Asamblea Nacional tramita reformas al COIP sobre violencia sexual digital [National Assembly processes reforms to the COIP on digital sexual violence],” El Universo, July 9, 2021, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/politica/asamblea-nacional-tramita-…; “Presidente Guillermo Lasso veta parcialmente proyecto de ley contra la violencia sexual digital y lucha contra delitos informáticos [President Guillermo Lasso partially vetoes bill against digital sexual violence and the fight against cybercrime],” El Universal, June 10, 2021, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/politica/presidente-guillermo-lasso…
- 10“El trámite de Ley contra Violencia Digital terminó en la Asamblea y se mantienen delitos contra la honra [The process of the Law against Digital Violence ended in the Assembly and crimes against honor remain],” El Comercio, July 9, 2021, https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/politica/tramite-ley-violencia-di…; Solines & Asociados Abogados, "Ley Orgánica Reformatoria del Código Orgánico Integral Penal para Prevenir y Combatir la Violencia Sexual Digital y Fortalecer la Lucha Contra los Delitos Informáticos,” September 2, 2021, https://www.solines.ec/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Ley-Org%C3%A1nica-Ref…
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||4.004 6.006|
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because, despite the continued lack of resolution in a problematic trial that started in 2019, journalists and users are not routinely investigated, arrested, or charged for their online speech.
Lawsuits threatening social media users and online journalists have lessened in recent years and are regularly withdrawn or dismissed.1 However, a prominent case from 2019 remains outstanding.
In May 2022, former legislator Ludovico Cruz filed a second criminal slander lawsuit against journalist Danilo Villarroel based on an investigation published in the digital outlet El Diario de Riobamba Digital in January 2022. The investigation revealed Cruz’s ownership of a gas station on a road that had been heavily invested in by the local government, of which Cruz’s son was a part. Cruz alleged that the reporting was false. If found guilty, Villarroel faces up to two years’ imprisonment (see C2). The initial suit, which Cruz filed in February 2022, was dropped by the judge after Cruz failed to respond to Villarroel’s request for specificity around the alleged damages.2
In September 2021, authorities raided the office of journalist Fausto Chimbolema, who runs the Facebook-based local news outlet La Voz TV Online, and confiscated his cell phone, laptop, and memory cards. Chimbolema suspected the raid, which the authorities did not explain, was in retaliation for his alleged interference in an ongoing investigation when he published an article earlier that month containing details from an anonymous source about the police raiding properties as part of a bank fraud investigation. Chimbolema had received a message on WhatsApp after publishing the article requesting that he provide testimony at the local attorney general’s office.3
During the previous coverage period, in October 2020, television host Juan Sarmiento received a 10-day prison term, a $100 fine, and an order to offer a public apology over a criminal complaint filed by Napo provincial governor Patricio Espíndola. Espíndola had alleged emotional and moral damage and harm to his dignity via a Facebook post where Sarmiento criticized Espíndola’s management of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as through episodes of Tendencia Digital, a news program Sarmiento hosted and directed that appeared on Facebook and on television.4 Espíndola called for a 15- to 30-day sentence, the maximum allowed under Article 396 of the penal code (see C2).5 Sarmiento appealed in October, but his appeal was rejected in November. Several weeks later, Sarmiento traveled to Peru under the protection of a program for at-risk journalists. He was detained upon his return to Ecuador in February 2021 but was released the next day because his arrest warrant had already expired.6
The Ola Bini trial, which has received international condemnation for significant delays and due process violations during Bini’s initial detention, remained ongoing during the coverage period. In April 2019, Ecuadorian police arrested Bini, a Swedish digital security expert with links to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, for “alleged participation in attacks against the integrity of computer systems.”7 Human rights defenders said his arrest was arbitrary.8 The Ecuadorian government attributed his detention to an alleged scheme to blackmail then president Moreno over Ecuador’s disassociation from Assange,9 whom Bini had visited multiple times in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.10 Bini was arrested on the same day Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum, after more than six years, and British authorities removed Assange from the embassy.11 Moreno asserted that Assange was establishing a spy center within the embassy and interfering with the democratic stability of several countries, including Ecuador.12
Bini was released from detention in June 2019 after the Provincial Court of Pichincha granted his lawyers’ request for habeas corpus, though he remained barred from leaving Ecuador and was required to appear at the prosecutor’s office weekly.13 After it was postponed at least five times in 2020, his pre-trial hearing concluded in June 2021.14 The first part of Bini’s trail, scheduled for October 2021, was postponed until January 2022; the second part of the trial resumed in May 2022. The final days of negotiations, set for August 2022, after the coverage period, were postponed due to the lack of a translator.15 Authorities raided Bini’s office, reportedly without a court order, in April 2022.16
- 1“Actualización: Jueza Yadira Proaño archivó denuncia contra Fernando Villavicencio [Update: Judge Yadira Proaño filed a complaint against Fernando Villavicencio],” Fundamedios, October 22, 2020, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/actualizacion-jueza-yadira-proan…; “Asambleísta Jimmy Candell retira denuncia contra Luis Eduardo Vivanco, periodista de La Posta, a quien acusaba de haber afectado su honra [Assemblyman Jimmy Candell withdraws complaint against Luis Eduardo Vivanco, a journalist from La Posta, whom he accused of having affected his honor],” El Universo, January 19, 2021, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2021/01/19/nota/9594553/asambleista…
- 2“Exasambleísta de CREO inicia hostigamiento judicial contra periodista en Ecuador [Former Assemblyman of CREO initiates judicial harassment against journalist in Ecuador],” Fundamedios, May 4, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/exasambleista-correista-inicia-h…
- 3“Ecuadorian authorities raid office of journalist Fausto Chimbolema, confiscate equipment,” CPJ, September 22, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/09/ecuadorian-authorities-raid-office-of-journalis…
- 4Ecuadorian journalist Juan Sarmiento sentenced to prison for ‘discrediting’ local official,” Committee to Protect Journalists, November 20, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/11/ecuadorean-journalist-juan-sarmiento-sentenced-…
- 5“Gobernador de Napo presenta demanda contra periodista por daño moral [Governor of Napo files lawsuit against journalist for non-pecuniary damage,” Fundamedios, September 28, 2020, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/gobernador-napo-demanda-periodis…; Annual Report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression: Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2020, vol.2, March 30, 2021, http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/docs/annual/2020/Chapters/rele-en.PDF
- 6“Periodista Juan Sarmiento fue apresado por la Policía Nacional del Ecuador[Journalist Juan Sarmiento was arrested by the Ecuadorian National Police],” Fundamedios, February 6, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/periodista-apresado-ecuador/; “Periodista Juan Sarmiento quedó libre tras prescripción de sentencia [Journalist Juan Sarmiento was released after prescription of sentence],” Fundamedios, February 7, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/periodista-libertad-prescripcion…
- 7“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-….
- 8David 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.
- 9José 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….
- 10Joshua 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…
- 11Patrick 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….
- 12Nicholas 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…;
- 13“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…; Vincent Ricci, “Swedish friend of Assange fights to clear his name in Ecuador,” Al Jazeera, January 4, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/4/swedish-friend-of-assange-fight….
- 14Jason Kelley, “After Years of Delays and Alarmingly Flimsy Evidence, Security Expert Ola Bini’s Trial Set for This Week,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, October 19, 2021, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/10/after-years-delays-and-alarmingly…; Jason Kelley and Veridiana Alimonti, “EFF and Other Civil Society Organizations Issue Report on Danger to Digital Rights in Ola Bini Trial,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 9, 2022, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/05/eff-and-other-civil-society-organ…
- 15Denise Herrera, “Ola Bini: La Justicia ecuatoriana sigue vulnerando sus derechos [Ola Bini: Ecuadorian Justice continues to violate their rights],” Radio Pichincha, August 30, 2022, https://www.pichinchacomunicaciones.com.ec/ola-bini-la-justicia-ecuator…
- 16“Ecuador raids office of Swedish computer scientist friend of Assange,” EFE, April 9, 2022, https://www.efe.com/efe/english/world/ecuador-raids-office-of-swedish-c…
|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 to make comments in digital forums and news sites.1
- 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….
- 3Telecommunications 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|
The government’s history of surveilling citizens, including journalists and activists, by means of communications technology, as well as its access to foreign surveillance equipment and location-tracking efforts at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic cause concern for internet users’ privacy in Ecuador.
The government has access to an array of surveillance equipment acquired from international companies. An August 2021 Access Now report detailed the state’s opaque use of such technologies for video surveillance and facial recognition purposes, as well as the lack of legal framework to regulate such practices.1 The use of surveillance technologies has disproportionately targeted people seen as unsympathetic to the state in the past; one report author highlighted the use of cell phone sensors and video surveillance to locate environmental activists, for instance.2
The report confirmed the use of surveillance tech provided by Swedish company Axis, Chinese company Hikvision, and Israeli-US company Verint.3 Allegations that the state had been using surveillance equipment purchased from foreign companies had emerged in the past. In September 2020, then interior minister María Paula Romo responded to a question regarding the alleged use of telephone interception equipment provided by G12 Impact, Verint Web Intelligence, and Plataforma Trapdoor by evasively stating that tracking equipment was only being used by the National Police in criminal investigations with judicial authorization.4 In December 2020, University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab included Ecuador in a list of 25 countries where governments were likely customers of Israeli surveillance company Circles. Clients can monitor calls, text messages, and mobile-phone geolocation by exploiting weaknesses in mobile telecommunications infrastructure.5
Previously, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government authorized and deployed a number of location-tracking platforms and technologies that sparked major concern from civil society organizations due to a lack of transparency around the storage and use of data, the extreme potential for privacy violations, the likelihood of disproportionate and discriminate use, and the unchecked invasiveness of the apps and technologies in question.6 Shortly after the government released the Salud EC App, which allowed users to report COVID-19 symptoms, for instance, in March 2020,7 MINTEL presented its tracking platform, which integrates data from tracking technology and Salud EC, as well as from mobile service providers and the national emergency response system, ECU911. Critics noted that users lacked clear legal protections and warned that the platform could be used in ways that violate users’ privacy.8
Prior to recent privacy concerns, the Ecuadorian government had a history of surveilling its citizens by means of communications technology. Created in 2009, the National Secretariat of Intelligence (SENAIN) oversaw the production of “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 Correa-era documents exposed compelling evidence that the government engaged in surveillance of a wide range of individuals, including illegal spying on politicians, journalists, and activists.10 Moreno eliminated SENAIN in September 2018 and created the Strategic Intelligence Center (CIES), which received all of SENAIN’s functions, competence, attributions, rights, obligations, resources, and budget.11 The Ecuadorian intelligence apparatus also has access to extensive surveillance capabilities through the countrywide deployment of thousands of cameras that transmit live to ECU911 headquarters, with a direct mirror reportedly existing at CIES offices.12
- 1Access Now, “Surveillance Tech in Latin America: Made Abroad, Deployed at Home,” August 2021, https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2021/08/Surveillance-Tech-…
- 2Carlos Flores and Ameya Nagarajan, “‘We are living under constant video surveillance in Ecuador,’ says activist Anaís Córdova,” Global Voices, April 5, 2022, https://globalvoices.org/2022/04/05/we-are-living-under-constant-video-…
- 3Access Now, “Surveillance Tech in Latin America: Made Abroad, Deployed at Home,” August 2021, https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2021/08/Surveillance-Tech-…
- 4Daniel Romero, “Ministra María Paula Romo prepara respuesta sobre uso de equipos para interceptar Comunicaciones. [Minister María Paula Romo prepares a response on the use of equipment to intercept communications],” El Comercio, September 6, 2020. https://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/ministra-romo-respuesta-equipos-c….; Christopher Bing, Joel Schectman, and Jack Stubbs, “Cyber-intel firms pitch governments on spy tools to trace coronavirus,” Reuters, April 28, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-spy-specialreport…
- 5Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Siddharth Prakash Rao, Siena Anstis, and Ron Deibert. Citizen Lab. Running in CirclesUncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles. December 1, 2020. https://citizenlab.ca/2020/12/running-in-circles-uncovering-the-clients…
- 6“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…; “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…; “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…-.; 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.
- 7Usuarios 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.
- 8“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…; 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.
- 9National 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….
- 10Roberto 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….
- 11Center 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…. ; 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….
- 12Paul 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…. ; “Cámaras de Videovigilancia,” Servicio integrado de seguridad ECU911, accessed March 4, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20210117000706/https://www.ecu911.gob.ec/ca…; “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.
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||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
The National Assembly approved the Organic Law on Personal Data Protection in May 2021, during the previous coverage period.3 The new law creates an independent body for data protection, the Superintendency for the Protection of Personal Data, and is seen as potentially the most advanced data protection legislation in the region. The draft, introduced by the government in 2019 following a large data breach, was based on two years’ worth of work by government agencies in consultation with civil society organizations.4 The proposed legislation established sanctions on unauthorized use of personal data by both public and private entities and forbade the use of personal data for anything that exceeds the original purpose.5 In July 2021, academics and representatives from digital rights, free expression, and data privacy organizations established an observatory to monitor the implementation of the law.6
Still, judges can compel ISPs by means of a court order to provide communication data to law enforcement agencies. Content intercepted via internet surveillance is admissible in court and can be used to convict defendants 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 short-message service (SMS) texts of criminal suspects.7
Mobile operators are required to implement technology that would automatically provide the physical location of mobile phone users for emergency purposes, within a range of 50 meters.8
- 1Telecommunications 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….
- 2Telecommunications 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….
- 3National Assembly of Ecuador, “Pleno aprueba proyecto de Ley de Protección de Datos Personales [Plenary approves draft Personal Data Protection Law],” May 10, 2021, https://www.asambleanacional.gob.ec/es/noticia/71805-pleno-aprueba-proy…
- 4National 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….
- 5National 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….
- 6“Se constituye el Observatorio para dar seguimiento a la implementación de la Ley de Protección de datos personales en Ecuador [The Observatory is established to monitor the implementation of the Personal Data Protection Law in Ecuador],” Fundamedios, August 2, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/se-constituye-el-observatorio-para-dar-s…
- 7“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-…
- 8Integrated 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 relation to their online activities?||3.003 5.005|
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because users did not face physical violence in retaliation for their online activities during the coverage period. The threat remains, however; two journalists were killed in potential retaliation for their online reporting after the coverage period.
Online journalists and activists have generally experienced lower levels of intimidation in recent years. However, threats to physical safety against critical users and journalists for online platforms persist, including some leveled by those with connections to powerful government officials.
Online harassment and intimidation of critical voices, sometimes prompted by individuals closely tied to the government, continued during the coverage period. In April 2022, journalist Doménica Vivanco of digital outlet La Posta received a barrage of misogynistic online attacks. The attacks followed a tweet from former president Rafael Correa in which he labelled as “nonsense” a tweet Vivanco had made about the opacity surrounding the release of Correa’s former vice president Jorge Glas despite three corruption charges.1 In October 2021, an armed group that refers to itself as Los Fantasmas (The Ghosts) circulated a video on social media showing 18 men carrying rifles that concluded with a warning that La Posta should not get involved in their activities. The threat appeared to be in response to two investigative reports the outlet had published on the operation of mafias in Ecuador’s prison.2
Ecuadorian journalists also sometimes receive death threats for their online reporting. In June 2021, an unidentified man yelled a death threat at Luis Eduardo Vivanco, a journalist and founder of La Posta. The following day, he received a death threat from an unfamiliar account over WhatsApp with a screenshot attached of a Twitter comment Vivanco had made about conditions in Quito under Mayor Jorge Yunda.3 In August 2021, while broadcasting live on her Facebook-based news outlet, Digital Vir’s, about local officials’ efforts to expand a cemetery by expropriating land, journalist Virginia Suárez received a death threat in a Facebook comment. She found another on her car window days later, threatening death if she were to “keep publishing [her] complaints.”4
State violence against journalists covering protests for online outlets was also reported during the coverage period. While covering the Women’s Day march in March 2022, journalist Viviana Erazo of Wambra was cornered, struck by a police officer’s club, and pepper sprayed.5 In October 2021, Ecuador Chequea journalist Félix Amaya was shot by a police officer with a rubber bullet at close range while covering protests in Quito, despite fully identifying himself as press.6
At least two journalists were killed in potential retaliation for their online reporting after the coverage period. In July 2022, journalist Mike Cabrera died in the hospital after being shot by a group of unknown individuals. Cabrera, formerly a TV news broadcaster, had been covering local issues on Nexo Digital, his news page on various social networks.7 The motive had not been determined as of August 2022.8
In August 2022, journalist Gerardo Delgado Olmedo was fatally shot at a traffic light by two gunmen, one of whom reported having been offered $2,000 for the killing. Olmedo, who reported on crime and local news and sometimes criticized the city government on his Facebook page Ola Manta TV, had been on his way to investigate a false lead he had received via phone about a possible suicide.9 The motive had not been determined as of August 2022.
- 1“Expresidente de Ecuador, prófugo de la Justicia, atacó a periodista y generó una ola de insultos misóginos [Former president of Ecuador, a fugitive from Justice, attacked a journalist and generated a wave of misogynistic insults],” Fundamedios, April 20, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/expresidente-de-ecuador-profugo-…
- 2“Grupo delincuencial armado lanza advertencia a medio digital La Posta a través de un video [Armed criminal group launches warning to La Posta digital media through a video],” Fundamedios, October 14, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/grupo-delincuencial-armado-lanza…; “Grupo armado «Los Fantasmas» amenaza a La Posta [Armed group “Los Fantasmas” threatens La Posta],” La Republica, October 14, 2021, https://www.larepublica.ec/blog/2021/10/14/grupo-armado-los-fantasmas-a…
- 3“Ecuadorian journalist Luis Eduardo Vivanco receives death threats,” CPJ, June 29, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/06/ecuadorian-journalist-luis-eduardo-vivanco-rece…
- 4“Ecuadorian journalist Virginia Suárez receives death threats,” CPJ, September 2, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/09/ecuadorian-journalist-virginia-suarez-receives-…
- 5“Ecuador: Amnesty Granted To 268 Rights Defenders and Protesters,” CIVICUS, March 30, 2022, https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-…
- 6“Periodista de Ecuador Chequea recibió un impacto de una bala de goma a quemarropa [Journalist from Ecuador Chequea was hit by a rubber bullet at close range],” Fundamedios, October 26, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/periodista-de-ecuador-chequea-re…
- 7“SRFOE condemns the murder of journalist Mike Cabrera in Ecuador and calls on the State to take measures for the prevention and protection of the press,” Organization of American States, August 3, 2022, https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?lID=1&artID=1247
- 8“Fundamedios pide la activación del Comité para la Seguridad de Periodistas por la violencia y muerte de comunicadores, en circunstancias no aclaradas [Fundamedios calls for the activation of the Committee for the Safety of Journalists due to the violence and death of communicators, in unclarified circumstances],” Fundamedios, August 11, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/fundamedios-pide-la-activacion-del-comit…
- 9“Ecuadorian journalist Gerardo Delgado Olmedo shot and killed in Manta,” CPJ, August 17, 2022, https://cpj.org/2022/08/ecuadorian-journalist-gerardo-delgado-olmedo-sh…
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
Technical attacks have targeted media websites and their social media accounts in recent years, and government and financial institutions remain vulnerable to technical attacks, especially ransomware attacks.1
In November 2021, a Facebook page for digital outlet La Nueva TV Ecuador was hacked. Despite having dual-factor authentication enabled, group administrators found that they had been removed from the page and editors found they had been changed to analysts.2 In December 2021, the Twitter account of online outlet Wambra was hacked in an attack that lasted eight hours, during which hackers changed the page’s profile picture and published multiple tweets.3 In June 2022, after the coverage period, three different platforms covering politics reported that they were experiencing technical problems with their websites and social media accounts, alleging technical attacks against their sites and the hacks of their accounts during the country’s national strike.4
Attacks against government institutions have also disrupted operations and posed a threat to individuals’ personal information in recent years.5 In August 2021, the computer systems of CNT suffered a ransomware attack that disrupted their payment portal and business operations. The attack is thought to have been carried out by ransomware operation RansomEXX, which claimed to have stolen 190 GB of data, though CNT has stated that its data remained uncompromised.6 A few days later, the systems of the Communication Council—a government body devoted to regulating, developing, and promoting the exercise of communication and information—fell victim to a ransomware attack. Following the attack, the Council suspended its website, which remained offline for at least two days.7 In April 2022, computer systems belonging to the municipality of Quito fell victim to a BlackCat ransomware attack (a ransomware strain linked to Russia), leading the municipality to suspend its digital procedures. One official reported that the attack aimed to make the municipality's systems inaccessible, and that it had affected 15 percent of the information contained in the municipality’s central administration database.8
Financial institutions also face technical attacks in Ecuador. In October 2021, the country’s largest private bank, Banco Pichincha, suffered a cyberattack. Thought to be a ransomware attack, the bank was forced to shut down parts of its system and disrupted operations, including online banking services. The bank was still reporting service disruptions due to the attack at least five days after it occurred.9 Previously, in February 2021, it was reported that 80 GB of sensitive information relating to account holders from Banco Pichincha had been stolen.10 An online actor named Hotarus Corp. allegedly requested a ransom of $30 million in Bitcoin not to expose sensitive information about Banco Pichincha’s clients. Despite these reports, the bank denied that its systems had been compromised.11
In June 2022, after the coverage period, the minister of Telecommunications and Information Society presented the National Cybersecurity Strategy. Born out of multistakeholder engagement with private and public actors and cybersecurity experts, the strategy establishes guidelines for strengthening the country’s cybersecurity response in both the public and private sectors.12
- 1Usuarios 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; “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-….
- 2“La cuenta de Facebook del medio digital La Nueva TV Ecuador fue hackeada [The Facebook account of the digital medium La Nueva TV Ecuador was hacked],” Fundamedios, November 20, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/la-cuenta-de-facebook-del-medio-…
- 3“La cuenta del medio digital Wambra fue hackeada por segunda vez [The Wambra digital media account was hacked for the second time],” Fundamedios, December 27, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/la-cuenta-del-medio-digital-wamb…
- 4“Comunicadores alertan sobre problemas técnicos en sus plataformas digitales durante el paro en Ecuador [Communicators warn about technical problems on their digital platforms during the strike in Ecuador],” Fundamedios, June 19, 2022, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/comunicadores-alertan-sobre-prob…
- 5“Banco Pichincha niega exposición de información sensible de sus clientes [Banco Pichincha denies exposure of sensitive customer information],” GK, February 10, 2021, https://gk.city/2021/02/10/informacion-confidencial-banco-pichincha/
- 6Lawrence Abrams, “Ecuador's state-run CNT telco hit by RansomEXX ransomware,” Bleeping Computer, July 17, 2021, https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/ecuadors-state-run-cnt-t…
- 7“Página de Consejo de Comunicación sigue fuera de línea después de un hackeo [Communication Council page still offline after hack],” Fundamedios, August 7, 2021, https://www.fundamedios.org.ec/alertas/pagina-de-consejo-de-comunicacio…
- 8Mercedes Onafa, “Cyberattacks Threaten Security in Ecuador,” Dialogo Americas, June 30, 2022, https://dialogo-americas.com/articles/cyberattacks-threaten-security-in…; “Ataque informático al Municipio de Quito motiva suspensión de trámites digitales [Computer attack on the Municipality of Quito motivates suspension of digital procedures],” El Universo, April 18, 2022, https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/ecuador/ante-hackeo-sufrido-por-el-…
- 9Pierluigi Paganini, “Ecuador’s Banco Pichincha has yet to recover after recent cyberattack,” Security Affairs, October 17, 2021, https://securityaffairs.co/wordpress/123465/cyber-crime/ecuadors-banco-…
- 10“Banco Pichincha niega exposición de información sensible de sus clientes [Banco Pichincha denies exposure of sensitive customer information],” GK, February 10, 2021, https://gk.city/2021/02/10/informacion-confidencial-banco-pichincha/
- 11Betssy Santistevan, “Hacker habría pedido rescate en bitcoin a banco de Ecuador tras robar 80 GB de información [Hacker would have requested a ransom in bitcoin from Ecuador's bank after stealing 80 GB of information],” Criptonoticias, https://www.criptonoticias.com/seguridad-bitcoin/hacker-habria-pedido-r…; Carolina Farfán, “Banco Pichincha se pronuncia por filtración de datos de sus clientes [Banco Pichincha speaks out due to the leakage of its clients' data],” Vistazo, February 19, 2021, https://www.vistazo.com/seccion/actualidad-nacional/banco-pichincha-se-…
- 12“El Gobierno Nacional presentó la Estrategia Nacional de Ciberseguridad [The National Government presented the National Cybersecurity Strategy], Ministry of Telecommunications and the Information Society June 16, 2022, https://www.telecomunicaciones.gob.ec/el-gobierno-nacional-presento-la-…
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score70 100 free
Internet Freedom Score64 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusFree