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
64 100 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 has shown some improvements in Ecuador, including the continued expansion of internet penetration and new commitments by President Guillermo Lasso’s government to protect online expression. However, the government has struggled to uphold many of these commitments in practice, and Lasso’s decision in May 2023 to dissolve the National Assembly—a constitutional yet unprecedented maneuver—fueled uncertainty about the future of such reforms ahead of snap elections. Amid broader concerns of violence in Ecuador, digital journalists and communicators face increasing threats to their physical safety, especially when covering elections and politically sensitive topics. Additionally, mechanisms to enforce the country’s new data protection framework—a positive development in recent years—appeared to be stalled. No reports emerged that the government restricted connectivity or otherwise censored political or social content online.

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 in 14 years that neither Correa nor his preferred candidate won the presidency. Ongoing challenges include official corruption, due process violations, and violence in prisons and during protests.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2022 - May 31, 2023

  • Internet penetration rates and speeds continued to improve, and nearly 75 percent of Ecuadorians had access to the internet during the coverage period. However, government initiatives have struggled to close the country’s significant urban-rural digital divide (see A1 and A2).
  • President Lasso partially vetoed a problematic reform to the Communication Law in August 2022. As a result of Lasso’s modifications, the version of the bill enacted in November 2022 was more favorable to freedom of expression online, affirming that the state will not regulate media content and including opinion as a protected form of expression (see B3 and C1).
  • Ola Bini was declared innocent by a unanimous verdict in January 2023, potentially resolving a problematic years-long trial. Prosecutors have appealed Bini’s acquittal (see C3).
  • Provisions of the Organic Law on Personal Data Protection, originally passed in May 2021, entered fully into force in May following a two-year transition period. However, the government appeared unprepared to enforce the law as scheduled; a Superintendence of Data Protection had not been appointed by the end of the coverage period (see C6).
  • Journalists who report online were increasingly threatened by retaliatory physical violence, as evidenced by the murder of two digital journalists during the coverage period. Online harassment and intimidation of critical voices, including death threats that forced journalists to leave the country, 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

Internet access in Ecuador continued to increase during the coverage period. According to the Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL), 74.44 percent of the population had internet access by December 2022, up from 71.75 percent in the previous year.1

Fixed-line broadband penetration has stayed relatively low, at 14.97 percent as of December 2022, a slight increase from 14.17 percent in 2021.2 According to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, the median fixed-line broadband download speed in May 2023 was 56.69 megabits per second (Mbps), and the median upload speed was 50.24 Mbps,3 an increase from the previous year.

Meanwhile, mobile internet penetration increased to 59.46 percent as of December 2022, up from 57.58 percent in December 2021.4 According to ARCOTEL’s report on active mobile lines, as of December 2022,5 users predominantly relied on long-term evolution (LTE) technology, which was used by 10.4 million of the 17.5 million total lines. As of May 2023, the median mobile download speed was 21.54 Mbps and the median upload speed was 11.52 Mbps, as measured by Ookla.6

In recent years, the government has created plans to increase availability and access nationwide, including by deploying LTE technology and fiber-optic networks in previously underserved areas.7 The government’s Plan for the Creation of Opportunities 2021–2025 includes goals and policies designed 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).8

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, although average broadband prices remain higher in Ecuador than in many South American countries. The cost of the internet varies depending on the type of connection and a customer’s geographic location, among other factors. According to statistics from the British company Cable, the average monthly broadband internet subscription price was $35.28 in 2023, 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 increased to $450 per month in 2023,3 up from $425 in 2022.4

Socioeconomic and geographic disparities in internet access persist in Ecuador. Most underserved communities are in the Amazon region, but the southern mountains, the coastline, and the Galapagos Islands also lack sufficient infrastructure. According to official statistics from the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Society (MINTEL), as of 2022 about 25 percent of rural parishes lacked an internet connection.5

There is a significant divide in internet access between urban and rural households, and there is evidence that the divide has widened even as overall internet access has improved. As of 2020, 61.7 percent of urban households had internet access, compared with only 34.7 percent of rural households. By July 2022, 70.1 percent of urban households had internet access, while access among rural households had only increased to 38 percent. Gaps in internet access also persist between households of different ethnicities. As of July 2022, 70.5 percent of Indigenous, 55.4 percent of Montubio, and 46.3 percent of Afro-Ecuadorian households did not have internet access, compared to 34.5 percent of mestizo households.6

Disparities in internet access persist when looking at individual users. The percentage of people in urban areas who reported using the internet increased from 77.1 percent in 2020 to 78.5 percent in 2022. There was a reported decrease in internet use among people living in rural areas, from 56.9 percent in 2020 to 50.5 percent in 2022.7

Fixed-line and mobile subscriptions remain concentrated in two provinces with higher levels of urbanization, Guayas and Pichincha, and as of December 2022 each province held 29 percent of Ecuador’s internet subscribers.8

The government has introduced initiatives that aim to narrow disparities in access. In 2011, state-run “Infocenters” began providing free internet in rural areas.9 The centers were rebranded as “Meeting Points” under President Lasso’s government.10 In January 2023, MINTEL reported that there were 886 Meeting Points serving less-connected areas, including 185 in the Amazon region. MINTEL also reported that the centers directly benefitted 1.7 million people across the country by providing free internet access and online courses through agreements with private companies, among other services.11 By January 2023, there were also 6,775 free Wi-Fi points spanning 20 provinces.12 In September 2022, the government announced that, as of the start of the Lasso administration in 2021, it had invested just under $10 million in providing 4G connectivity to 53 parishes without access to mobile internet, benefitting 332,000 people. The government aims to provide 4G or better mobile coverage to 85 percent of the country’s population in 2023.13

Municipal governments have also introduced similar initiatives. In April 2023, the municipal government of Quito announced a project that would install 1,500 free Wi-Fi hotspots in high-traffic locations throughout the city. The city plans to fully implement the hotspots in 2024.14

During the coverage period, several efforts were underway to improve internet access on the remote Galapagos Islands. Construction of an undersea cable connecting the Galapagos with the mainland began in 2021 (see A3), and in December 2022, it was reported that state-owned internet service provider (ISP) National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) would collaborate with satellite telecommunications company SES to enhance connectivity on the islands.15 Separately, AXESS Networks is pursuing a project that will utilize SpaceBridge technology to provide high-speed broadband on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos.16

In April 2023, Starlink, a satellite ISP owned by SpaceX, began providing service to the Galapagos Islands, with its coverage expected to eventually reach other rural areas of Ecuador.17 However, the price of Starlink's internet package, starting at approximately $60 per month, makes it inaccessible to residents of rural areas.18

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, communications, and video streaming platforms remained readily available.

Concern over the potential for connectivity restrictions briefly emerged during the coverage period but were quickly allayed by the government. On June 17, 2022, amid nationwide protests, President Lasso declared a state of emergency in three provinces. A draft order that circulated immediately thereafter sparked criticism from civil society, press freedom advocates, and ordinary users for including an article that could threaten freedoms of information and expression by allowing the government to restrict fixed, mobile, and internet telecommunications services (see B3). The following day, the government published the official decree without the controversial article.1

However, disruptions to internet access have occurred in the past. Amid mass protests in October 2019, CNT users experienced general connectivity disruptions and issues accessing Facebook and WhatsApp (see B8).2 For a brief period later that month, mobile service provider Claro allegedly imposed connectivity interruptions across large swathes of the country and in Quito.3

Ecuador’s physical infrastructure is not highly centralized. Three submarine cables provide connection to the global internet, with construction continuing on two additional undersea cable projects during the coverage period. The first project, the Carnival Submarine Network-1 (CSN-1), will connect Ecuador and the United States, with landing points in Panama and Colombia. The second, the Galapagos Cable System, will connect mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.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 created by the law’s vague standards and 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’s telecommunications market is concentrated among a relatively small number of service providers. As of December 2022, the country had four major ISPs covering more than 67 percent of the fixed-line market, with hundreds of smaller ISPs covering the rest. Megadatos holds 28.18 percent of the market, followed by the state-owned CNT (19.13 percent), Conecel (Claro) (12.23 percent), and Setel (8.42 percent). The mobile service market, on the other hand, is an oligopoly: Conecel (Claro) holds 55.54 percent of the market, followed by Otecel (Movistar) with 31.55 percent and CNT with 12.91 percent.1

According to information released by ARCOTEL in November 2021, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), one measure of market concentration, shows that Ecuador’s mobile market remains “highly concentrated.” However, ARCOTEL’s bulletin also noted that the overall market for ISPs has become significantly more competitive since 2016, with a decreasing trend on the HHI over that period.2

Previously, a January 2019 report from the country’s comptroller general investigated concessions awarded to Telconet to build a submarine cable and found irregularities in the process.3 The report was referred to the attorney general’s office for a criminal investigation.4 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.5 The case has not yet gone to trial, and the investigation appeared to be ongoing at the end of the coverage period.

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 telecommunications ministry, MINTEL, and is responsible for the technical aspects of administrating, regulating, and controlling the telecommunications sector and 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 had held office since January 2019—was fired for delaying the allocation of radio and television frequencies for almost a year.5 Juan Carlos Soria Cabrera is the current executive director of ARCOTEL, a position he was appointed to in January 2023.6

ISPs and other internet-related organizations are allowed and, to a certain extent, encouraged to establish self-regulatory mechanisms. Examples of this include public assistance to develop public and private Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs); the local internet exchange point NAP.ec, which is managed by AEPROVI, an association of ISPs; and the Ecuadorian internet protocol version 6 (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.7 The former media regulator, the Superintendence of Information and Communications (SUPERCOM), was eliminated by a 2019 reform to the Communication Law that went into effect in February 2020. SUPERCOM was highly criticized for acting as a tool of political censorship.8

In 2022, MINTEL implemented a code of ethics that is meant to guarantee the independence of employees at the ministry. Article 7 of the code requires all public servants at the institution to recuse themselves from “processes or procedures that generate conflicts of interest with any entity or person” with whom they have personal or business relationships with, as well as “refrain from any conduct that may affect their independence of judgment for the performance of their duties.”9

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

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 used for anonymization of navigation or circumvention of censorship.

However, in July 2021, the government’s intellectual property agency, the 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 affected y2mate.com and mp3-youtube.download, among other sites, and also applied to sites used to facilitate access to those ordered blocked. Users who attempted to access any site subject to the order were redirected to an educational landing page.1 SENADI’s order to block these sites appeared to remain in force during the coverage period.2

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 Rafael Correa, copyright law was frequently used to censor politically sensitive content online.1 This practice eased considerably, but not completely, under former president Lenín Moreno. President Lasso’s administration has not engaged in similar abuses since his term began.2 There were no reported instances of government-mandated content removal during the coverage period.

Previously, however, in July 2020, President Moreno’s office used Iomart Group PLC, a firm based in the United Kingdom, to request the removal of five critical 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. Ecuador’s ombudsman ordered the National Secretariat of Communications to withdraw the suit shortly thereafter and condemned the arbitrary use of copyright law by public institutions as censorship.3

The Spanish reputation management firm Eliminalia, which uses copyright law and other dubious legal tactics to remove content on behalf of well-connected clients, is reportedly active in Ecuador. Eliminalia maintains an office in the country,4 and as of 2019, it was reported that the company had approximately 250 clients based in Ecuador.5

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

A series of recent reforms to the Communication Law—the latest of which was enacted in November 2022—have seemed to promise a less restrictive online environment for media outlets. However, existing restrictions on content continue to lack transparency and proportionality and remain open to potential abuses by authorities.

Reforms made to the Communication Law in November 2022 affirm that the state will not regulate media content. Article 3 of the reform provides for self-regulation of the media, guaranteeing that “journalistic and communication activity must be governed by ethical standards and self-regulation, in no case by standards imposed by the state.” The reform also contains explicit guarantees for freedom of expression online (see C1). Article 20 maintains the Communication Law’s prohibition of the dissemination of content that incites or encourages violence, or national, racial, or religious hatred.

Prior reforms to the Communication Law, enacted in February 2019, 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 2019 Communication Law reforms was the elimination of SUPERCOM. Under the Correa government, SUPERCOM had aggressively pursued print media (including 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 for user comments while upholding their responsibility for 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 increase transparency by outlining its blocking and notification procedures, 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.

Additionally, Article 565 of the Organic Code of the Social Knowledge Economy, enacted in December 2016, establishes that when there is an alleged violation of intellectual property rights, the offender or an intermediary can be ordered to suspend web portal services as a precautionary measure.4 This could lead to rights violations if not handled properly.

Concern over the potential for recurring restrictions briefly emerged during the coverage period following the circulation of a draft state of emergency order (see A3). The draft order was created by Lasso amid nationwide protests in June 2022, and 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 an official version of the decree that omitted the controversial article.5

Platforms have suspended accounts belonging to online outlets in the past. During the previous coverage period, in March 2022, Twitter suspended an account belonging to Wambra, a digital 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.6 It is often unclear if such suspensions are justified by legitimate violations of the companies’ terms of use.

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 is treated carefully. Though the Lasso government has taken some steps to support freedom of expression, a general climate of hostility against journalists persists, which could contribute to self-censorship online.

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 traditional mass media reporting on the October 2019 protests followed a government narrative, while independent digital outlets tended to cover events from the perspectives of the protesters.1

The November 2022 reforms to the Organic Law of Communication contain guarantees for freedom of expression online (see C1), and the current government has generally not censored digital spaces.2 However, during the coverage period, journalists who cover sensitive issues continued to be the target of smear campaigns and, sometimes, physical violence (see C7).

President Lasso has contributed to such hostility against the media at times, though he has simultaneously positioned himself as a fervent defender of press freedom. For example, in February 2023, amid widespread reporting on alleged corruption in his government, Lasso claimed that he was “under a rude, lying attack” from the press, prompting condemnation from the press freedom organization Fundamedios.3 The same month, Lasso specifically accused journalists from the digital outlet La Posta of engaging in “debauchery and abuse” against his government (see C7).4

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 behavior (CIB) targeting Ecuadorian audiences sometimes seeks to influence public debate. In August 2022, the fact-checking platform Cazadores de Fake News reported that Twitter had suspended a “botnet” operation composed of 491 fake accounts for engaging in CIB in support of President Lasso between January and July 2022. The accounts amplified tweets posted by Lasso in a coordinated and automated or semi-automated way and were found to be associated with a group identified as the Network of Democratic Tweeters. Most of the accounts were created en masse; for instance, 180 were created over a four-day period in April.1 A few months later, in October, Cazadores de Fake News reported that an additional 352 pro-Lasso Twitter accounts had been detected, with most of these accounts apparently being created after the original network had been suspended in August. These accounts regularly retweeted President Lasso’s posts in a coordinated way, boosting hashtags such as #JuntosLoHacemosPosible (#TogetherWeMakeItPossible) and #JuntosPorElAgro (#TogetherForAgriculture).2 The origin and financial backing of this network remain unclear.

In December 2021, during the previous coverage period, 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 public relations firm. The network used both authentic and fake accounts to post links to websites posing as independent news outlets, and targeted users in Ecuador and a number of other Central American countries with Spanish-language writing about current events in Latin America.3

Online content manipulation remains a particular concern during electoral periods. During the sectional elections and national referendum held in February 2023, fact-checking initiatives Ecuador Verifica and Ecuador Chequea detected false news that harmed the political images of candidates and in certain cases alarmed citizens, and campaigns or candidates themselves sometimes spread disinformation. For example, Guayaquil mayor Cynthia Viteri was targeted by misleading images and text that spread disinformation about her management as mayor; these messages were widely shared via WhatsApp groups during her campaign for re-election.4

Similar activity has also been observed around other recent elections. Inauthentic activity and disinformation campaigns related to the February 2021 electoral period were reported in the months surrounding the vote. In March 2021, Facebook removed a network of 390 Facebook accounts, 6 pages, and 17 Instagram accounts originating in Spain and Argentina and targeting Ecuador. Their authentic followings were small and their content mainly involved the 2021 presidential election, including allegations of corruption and general criticism of candidate Andrés Arauz.5 Disinformation campaigns about both Arauz and Lasso spread on WhatsApp during this period.6

Efforts to counteract electoral disinformation have regularly emerged from both civil society and government actors. The Ecuador Verifica initiative—composed of media, academic, and civil society organizations, and founded to combat misinformation and fact-check presidential candidates prior to the 2021 election—continued its work ahead of the August 2023 snap general election and October runoff.7 In July 2022, the National Electoral Council (CNE), Ecuador Verifica, and Fundamedios announced that they had agreed to hold joint workshops on digital literacy and providing robust coverage in electoral contexts.8

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 2022 reforms to the Communication Law maintained the Article 6 ban on foreign ownership of media in Ecuador.1 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.2 Since 2020, foreign providers of digital services, including news outlets and social media platforms, must pay a value-added tax of 12 percent.3 As of August 2022, approximately 700 digital services were subject to the tax.4

Both the Culture Act (Article 5) and the Organic Law of Telecommunications (Articles 3, 4, and 66) include a general mandate to protect net neutrality. However, Article 22 of the latter act allows the limitation or blocking of online services or applications by order of the competent authority. Article 64 of the same 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.”5 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.

In its 2022 accountability report, ARCOTEL stated that it granted 203 enabling titles for telecommunications services and networks during the year, which generated approximately $312,791 in income for the state.6 The Telecommunications and Broadcasting Subscription Provision Regulation, enacted in May 2016, imposes several obligations on telecommunications providers that are granted qualifying titles, including a requirement that they provide “service to people who request it, in equitable conditions, without establishing discriminations.”7

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 digital media outlets has emerged in Ecuador in the last decade. Since websites are not typically blocked, 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 allowed the digital versions of traditional outlets, such as the websites for popular outlets El Universo and El Telégrafo, to dominate the online sphere.1

According to a statistical report published by the Communication Council in December 2022, there were 893 media outlets recorded in Ecuador’s public media registry, with the vast majority being privately owned. Of those recorded, only 63 were internet outlets—far fewer than the 98 print outlets and 607 radio outlets in the registry.2

Nonetheless, small independent digital media outlets like GK, Primicias, Tinta Digital and Plan V have become influential because of their investigative reporting. Independent digital outlets in Ecuador often emphasize perspectives that are missing or underreported in the traditional media.

There are a number of digital media outlets, including blogs and podcasts, that focus on matters affecting the Indigenous population and other underrepresented groups such as LGBT+ individuals or migrants. The digital community medium Wambra, for example, has positioned itself as a platform for perspectives on gender inequities and Indigenous communities, and broadcasts an online radio program produced by women, LGBT+ groups and social organizations.3 Another digital medium that has taken off in recent years is La Periódica, which centers the perspectives of women and LGBT+ people.4

Other media, such as Habitación Propia, Indómita, Edición Cientonce, and La Andariega, carry out community journalism that aims to raise awareness of gender diversities and sexual and reproductive rights. Despite growing efforts in digital media, there is still a gap in the coverage of these topics.5

Recent initiatives like Lanceros Digitales, a communication collective of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), seek to reach communities that are underserved by traditional media and report on their realities using digital platforms.6 Indigenous groups have also amassed significant social media followings. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador’s (CONAIE) Facebook page, for instance, had over 577,000 followers as of May 2023.7 Outlets devoted to Indigenous communities still tend to publish content in Spanish, rather than in Indigenous languages, which remains an obstacle.

False or misleading content is often spread through digital platforms and social networks, including about government officials or political candidates, undermining the reliability of the online information environment. During the 2023 electoral period, there were several cases where false news was spread in an intentional and coordinated manner (see B5).8 The General Secretariat of Communication of the Presidency (SEGCOM) issues statements denying false news about government officials or actions within its competence. In February 2023, for example, SEGCOM issued a statement correcting the false claim that President Lasso had faked a fracture in his leg.9

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 on digital advocacy or online communities, and social media has continued to serve as a tool for social mobilization in Ecuador.

Indigenous communities have used social media to mobilize protests and express demands. CONAIE used its social networks, especially Twitter, to call and mobilize protests in May 2022 and organize massive mobilizations against Lasso's economic and social policies in June 2022.1

During the national protests in June 2022, the government initially tried to implement internet interruptions through Decree 455, which would have allowed it to temporarily suspend or downgrade the quality of internet services during the state of emergency. The measure was not put into effect in the final decree (see A3).2 That month, CONFENIAE reported that a hacking attempt had disrupted its communication pages during the protests (see C8).3 However, Ecuadorians were ultimately able to use Twitter and Facebook extensively to express opinions and call for action during the demonstrations.

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 connectivity disruptions (see A3).

In recent years, there have been waves of social media activism around women’s rights. Users have turned to Facebook and Twitter to express indignation at femicide and gender-based violence and to advocate for the legalization of abortion in specific circumstances.4 During debates in the National Assembly about the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape in 2019, for instance, the use of the hashtag #AbortoPorViolacion (#AbortionInCasesOfRape) proliferated on social media. Though the effort was initially voted down, the Constitutional Court decriminalized abortion in pregnancies resulting from rape in April 2021.5 In February 2022, the National Assembly approved a bill to regulate abortion in such cases, which was partially vetoed by President Lasso. A modified version of the law came into force in April 2022, allowing victims of rape to obtain an abortion, with several restrictions and requirements. During the coverage period, women’s rights campaigns, such as Fundación Desafío, have continued to mobilize online.6

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 guarantees protections for freedom of expression, though concerns remain about the independence of the country’s judiciary and the protection of that right in practice. Article 16.2 of the Ecuadorian constitution grants “universal access to information technologies and communication” and Article 384 confers rights to communication, information, and freedom of expression.

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. Upon his inauguration in May 2021, President Lasso announced his intention to repeal the law and proposed a draft law to replace it later that month. Following a series of legislative proposals and civil society critiques, the National Assembly’s International Relations and Human Mobility Commission 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, net neutrality, and protections against online censorship, but 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, 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. Instead, the National Assembly approved a minority report that significantly modified the draft bill. The bill approved by the National Assembly was intensely criticized by government officials and civil society, who labeled it a new gag law containing the same violations of free expression as the 2013 law, and digital rights and press freedom organizations, who condemned its potential for abuse by executive powers. Critics warned against the bill’s 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 and failing to describe what the penalties 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 President Lasso to fully veto the law in July and August 2022.5 Lasso partially vetoed the law on August 24, 2022,6 citing the need to modify the proposed text to safeguard free expression and meet the highest international standards. Press freedom advocates voiced dissatisfaction with 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.7

Lasso’s partial veto had included 17 objections for unconstitutionality, to be judged by the Constitutional Court, and 34 for inconvenience, which are instances where the law is either unclear or contradictory, to be returned to the National Assembly.8 Among his constitutional objections, Lasso vetoed a provision that would have excluded “opinion” as a protected form of communication.9 The Constitutional Court approved 12 of Lasso’s 17 unconstitutionality objections in October, including the one on protections for opinion.10 The National Assembly ratified changes to Articles 1, 24 and 44 for inconvenience and neither approved nor rejected Lasso’s other objections, meaning that the president’s additional modifications became law. The final version of the reform to the Communication Law was published in Ecuador’s Official Register in November 2022.11

The reforms as passed contain several provisions that could improve freedom of expression online. Article 4 of the reform law explicitly protects freedom of expression on the internet and the expression of personal opinions on social networks, and pledges that the state will promote internet access and digital literacy. Article 13 contains protections for journalists and obliges the state to protect communication workers who are in physical danger, including those who report on organized crime, corruption, and prison violence. Lasso’s veto also alleviated concerns that the original version of the bill would allow the Ombudsman’s Office to censor the media, instead encouraging media outlets to develop self-regulation mechanisms through ethical codes or publishing policies, affirming that the state has no role in the regulation of journalistic activity or content (see B3).12

However, a Fundamedios report from December 2022 noted that, despite the fact that the law codifies Ecuador’s commitment to implementing all its international human rights obligations, these commitments are not carried out in practice. According to Fundamedios, the country must do more to adhere to international standards of free expression in practice, and the number of threats and instances of physical violence against journalists have worsened under the Lasso government (see C7).13

Several restrictive provisions in the 2013 Communication Law were previously reformed in February 2019.14 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.15

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. In recent years, President Lasso has successfully halted some legislative efforts to introduce even stricter reforms.

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.” 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 gender-based violence, it raised alarms from civil society and media organizations, who viewed multiple provisions as threats to free speech and uninhibited reporting, particularly on corruption and other forms of official misconduct.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 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? 5.005 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 4 to 5 because Ola Bini was declared innocent by a unanimous verdict in January 2023, potentially ending a years-long trial against him.

The number of lawsuits threatening social media users and online journalists has decreased in recent years, and lawsuits are regularly withdrawn or dismissed.1 A prominent case from 2019 appeared to be decided in favor of digital rights during the coverage period, though an appeal remains outstanding.

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.”2 Human rights defenders said his arrest was arbitrary.3 The Ecuadorian government attributed his detention to an alleged scheme to blackmail then president Moreno over Ecuador’s disassociation from Assange,4 whom Bini had visited multiple times in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.5 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.6 Moreno asserted that Assange was establishing a spy center within the embassy and interfering with the democratic stability of several countries, including Ecuador.7

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.8 After it was postponed at least five times in 2020, his pre-trial hearing concluded in June 2021.9 The first part of Bini’s trial, 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, were postponed due to the lack of a translator.10 Authorities raided Bini’s office, reportedly without a court order, in April 2022.11

In January 2023, almost four years after Bini was initially arrested, a three-judge tribunal unanimously declared him innocent. In its decision, the court ruled that prosecutors had not presented relevant evidence of a crime and had not sufficiently demonstrated that Bini gained unauthorized access to computer systems.12

Digital rights organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Article 19, welcomed the verdict and urged Ecuadorian authorities not to appeal the decision.13 However, the Prosecutor’s Office formally decided to appeal the decision in May 2023.14 As of July, after the end of the coverage period, the appeal of Bini’s acquittal remained ongoing. During the appeal, Bini may not leave Ecuador and his bank accounts remain frozen.15

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. Cruz’s initial suit, filed in February 2022, was dropped by a judge after Cruz failed to respond to Villarroel’s request to specify the alleged damages.16 In January 2023, the Criminal Chamber of the Provincial Court of Justice of Chimborazo declared Cruz’s second case against Villarroel null, ending the lawsuit.17 In its decision, the court agreed that Villarroel’s investigation was based on legitimate journalistic techniques. If found guilty, Villarroel had faced up to two years’ imprisonment.

During the previous coverage period, 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. Chimbolema published an article earlier that month with 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.18

Previously, in October 2020, television host Juan Sarmiento was given a 10-day prison term, fined $100, and ordered to publicly apologize for criticizing Napo provincial governor Patricio Espíndola’s management of the COVID-19 crisis in a Facebook post and on the news program Tendencia Digital. Sarmiento’s appeal was rejected in November, and several weeks later he 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.19

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 are not required to turn over their encryption keys without a court mandate. Reforms made to the Communication Law in 2019 eliminated a requirement that users must register their name and government identification number to make comments in digital forums and news sites.1

Cell phones and SIM cards, however, must be registered using a national ID.2 ARCOTEL can require ISPs to provide the IP addresses of their clients without a judicial order.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 access to foreign surveillance equipment and history of using communications technology to surveil citizens, including journalists and activists, raise concerns for internet users’ privacy in Ecuador.

In March 2023, the National Assembly enacted the Organic Law to Reform Various Legal Bodies for the Strengthening of Institutional Capacities and Comprehensive Security, establishing potentially concerning online surveillance capacities related to national security. Article 77 of the law, for instance, allows prosecutors to authorize an “undercover computer agent,” who is empowered to mask their identity to “carry out patrols or digital actions in cyberspace, penetrating and infiltrating computer platforms such as forums, communication groups, or closed sources of information” in order to broadly “investigate or clarify criminal acts committed or that may be committed.” Prosecutors, however, must obtain a judicial authorization for undercover agents to record images, audio, or video of such conversations.1 Digital rights organizations such as Access Now and Derechos Digitales have expressed concern that this enables disproportionate cyberpatrolling without establishing clear limits on the purpose of such surveillance.2

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 a legal framework to regulate such practices.3 The use of surveillance technologies has disproportionately targeted people seen as unsympathetic to the state in the past; for instance, one report author highlighted the use of cell phone sensors and video surveillance to locate environmental activists.4

Access Now’s 2021 report also confirmed the use of surveillance technology provided by Swedish company Axis, Chinese company Hikvision, and Israeli-US company Verint.5 Allegations that the state had been using surveillance equipment purchased from foreign companies had emerged in the past. In September 2020, in response to a question about the alleged use of telephone interception equipment provided by G12 Impact, Verint Web Intelligence, and Plataforma Trapdoor, then interior minister María Paula Romo evasively stated that tracking equipment was only being used by the national police in criminal investigations with judicial authorization.6 In December 2020, University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab included Ecuador in a list of 25 countries where governments were likely customers of the Israeli surveillance company Circles. Circles’ clients can monitor calls, text messages, and mobile-phone geolocation by exploiting weaknesses in mobile telecommunications infrastructure.7

Prior to more recent privacy concerns, the Ecuadorian government had a history of surveilling its citizens using 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.”8 Leaked Correa-era documents exposed compelling evidence that the government engaged in surveillance of a wide range of individuals, including illegally spying on politicians, journalists, and activists.9 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.10 The Ecuadorian intelligence apparatus also has access to extensive surveillance capabilities through the countrywide deployment of thousands of cameras that transmit live to the headquarters of ECU911, with a direct mirror reportedly existing at CIES offices.11

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 service 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 2021.3 The law creates an independent body for data protection, the Superintendence 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 penalties for the 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

When enacted in May 2021, the data protection law established a two-year transition period for companies to comply with the law’s data protection requirements—a deadline that passed during the coverage period, on May 26, 2023. However, the Superintendence for the Protection of Personal Data had not been appointed by that date; President Lasso named his shortlist for the position on May 29.7 As a result, the authority to monitor compliance with the law and enforce the sanctioning regime had not been established by the end of the coverage period.

Judges can issue court orders compelling ISPs 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.8

Article 67 of the March 2023 Organic Law to Reform Various Legal Bodies for the Strengthening of Institutional Capacities and Comprehensive Security allows prosecutors, without judicial authorization, to order service providers to retain subscriber and traffic data, particularly in cases when the data is likely to be lost or modified. Under the order, data must be retained for up to 90 days, which can be extended in the same increments.9

Mobile operators are required to implement technology that automatically provides the physical location of mobile phone users for emergency purposes, within a range of 50 meters.10

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? 2.002 5.005

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because at least two journalists were killed in potential retaliation for their online reporting during the coverage period, and two others were forced to leave Ecuador, as part of an increasing threat of physical violence against journalists in the country.

Journalists, including those who report online, face a serious threat of intimidation, harassment, and physical violence amid deepening insecurity in the country. Fundamedios recorded 356 aggressions against the press in 2022 – a significant increase from the 144 attacks recorded in 2018. These aggressions included 76 threats, 69 physical attacks, and 12 instances of verbal aggression. The organization’s report noted that the work of journalists is increasingly imperiled by organized crime in Ecuador. Separately, Periodistas Sin Cadenas recorded 64 aggressions against digital media journalists in June 2022 alone, during the national protests that month.1 Threats to the physical safety of critical users and journalists for online platforms persist, including some leveled by individuals connected to powerful government officials.

At least two journalists were killed in potential retaliation for their online reporting during the coverage period, though a motive has not been determined in either case. In July 2022, journalist Mike Cabrera died in the hospital after being shot by a group of unknown individuals. Cabrera, a former television news broadcaster, had been covering local issues on Nexo Digital, his news page on various social networks.2

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. Delgado reported on crime and local news and sometimes criticized the city government on his Facebook page, Ola Manta TV. He had been on his way to investigate a false lead he had received via phone about a possible suicide.3

During the coverage period, two journalists—at least one of whom works for a digital outlet—were forced to leave the country after receiving death threats. Karol Noroña, a journalist for the digital outlet GK, left the country in March 2023 due to an immediate threat to her life. Noroña had been covering organized crime and prisons for the outlet.4 A second journalist, who remained anonymous for security reasons, was forced to flee Ecuador under similar circumstances the following month. It remains unclear whether this second case occurred in connection with online reporting. According to Periodistas Sin Cadenas, the journalists fled because of a lack of state protection.5

Previously, in August 2021, journalist Virginia Suárez received a death threat in a Facebook comment while broadcasting live on her Facebook-based news outlet, Digital Vir’s, about local officials’ efforts to expand a cemetery by expropriating land. She found another on her car window days later, threatening death if she were to “keep publishing [her] complaints.”6

Intimidation and online harassment of critical voices, sometimes prompted by individuals closely tied to the government, continued during the coverage period. In a February 2023 speech, for example, President Lasso directed several targeted insults at digital media outlet La Posta, which had published allegations linking Lasso to high-level corruption.7 Among other comments, Lasso derided the reporters as “news entertainment mercenaries.” His comments led journalists and communicators to issue alerts on social networks highlighting the efforts to discredit, as well as the lack of protection for, journalism on corruption and organized crime.8 Despite vows to protect press freedom, Lasso has routinely engaged in efforts to stigmatize the press (see B4).

During the previous 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 Correa in which he labeled a tweet Vivanco had made “nonsense.” Vivanco’s tweet was about the opacity surrounding the release of Correa’s former vice president, Jorge Glas, despite three corruption charges against him.9 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 issued in response to two investigative reports the outlet had published on the operation of mafias in Ecuador’s prison system.10

State violence against journalists covering protests for online outlets has also been reported in recent years. 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.11 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 identifying himself as press.12

Women and LGBT+ digital journalists face difficulties in their work,13 including an elevated threat of harassment and stigmatization. In recent years, however, digital media has provided more opportunities to cover feminist and LGBT+ issues (see B7).

Despite a number of commitments on paper, recent efforts to implement stronger protections for journalists have stalled in practice. In 2019, the Inter-institutional Committee for the Protection of Journalists and Media Workers was created. This committee is led by the Ministry of Government.14 However, its functions have been unclear since its inception, and the committee has remained largely inactive for several years, creating greater uncertainty about the security of and protection for the practice of journalism and communication in Ecuador.

Article 13 of the November 2022 Communication Law reform also established a mechanism to protect journalistic work, tasked with conducting risk assessments and developing proposals to protect journalists, among other duties.15 The government published regulations on this mechanism in August 2023, after the coverage period.16

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 April 2023, digital outlet La Posta was the victim of two separate distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks within the span of 48 hours. A site hosting a recent investigation about public sector corruption remained inaccessible for two days due to the attacks.2

In June 2022, three different platforms covering politics reported that they were experiencing technical problems with their websites and social media accounts, allegedly due to technical attacks on their sites and hacks of their accounts during the country’s national strike.3 That month, CONFENIAE reported that its communication pages were also targeted by a hacking attempt.4 During the previous coverage period, 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.5

Cyberattacks against government institutions have also disrupted operations and posed a threat to individuals’ personal information in recent years.6 In March 2023, the organization Usuarios Digitales alerted via Twitter that a public health vaccination database containing personal information such as names, identification numbers, and dates of birth was apparently for sale online. In response, the Ministry of Public Health denied that it had been hacked and issued assurances that its systems were protected in accordance with the Personal Data Protection Law.7 During the previous coverage period, in April 2022, the municipality of Quito experienced a cyberattack that used BlackCat, a ransomware strain linked to Russia. The attack compromised the municipality's computer systems and impacted approximately 15 percent of the content on the central administration's database. As a result of the attack, Quito was forced to temporarily suspend all digital services.8

Previously, in August 2021, CNT’s computer systems 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 stated that its data remained uncompromised.9 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.10

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 disrupt operations, including online banking services. The bank was still reporting service disruptions due to the attack at least five days after it occurred.11

In June 2022, 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.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    67 100 partly 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