Ecuador

Partly Free
64
100
A Obstacles to Access 18 25
B Limits on Content 24 35
C Violations of User Rights 22 40
Last Year's Score & Status
62 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

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.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • 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).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 5.005 6.006

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

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 1.001 3.003

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

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 6.006 6.006

There 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

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

Ecuador has four major 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

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

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

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 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

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 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

Platforms have suspended accounts belonging to online outlets in the past. In March 2022, Twitter suspended an account belonging to Wambra, a digital Ecuadorian community media outlet, for allegedly violating the platform’s community standards around publishing sensitive third-party content without consent. The offending tweet, which was removed, denounced an attack on a Wambra journalist by police during a Women’s Day march; the account’s other tweets remained visible, though the account was blocked from posting new content.3 Previously, in 2019 and 2020, platforms like Twitter suspended the accounts of multiple outlets and journalists over copyright and privacy complaints, often for information linked to the former Correa administration or for images or video of Moreno.4 Whether such suspensions are justified by legitimate violations of the companies’ terms of use is often unclear.

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

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

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.

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

Coverage of corruption cases 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

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2.002 4.004

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

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

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.

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

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

C Violations of User Rights

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

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 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

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
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

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3.003 4.004

Neither anonymous nor encrypted communications are banned in Ecuador, and users of encryption are not subject to turn over their encryption keys without a court mandate. The recent reforms of the Communication Law eliminated requirements for users to register with their name and government identification number to make comments in digital forums and news sites.1

Registration of cell phones and SIM cards using a national ID, however, is mandatory.2 ISPs are required to submit the IP addresses of their clients without a judicial order upon request by ARCOTEL.3

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

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

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 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

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 3.003 5.005

Score Change: The score 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.

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

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

On Ecuador

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

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    71 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    64 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    No
  • Users Arrested

    No