Ecuador

Ecuador

Partly Free
61
100
A Obstacles to Access 16 25
B Limits on Content 24 35
C Violations of User Rights 21 40
Last Year's Score & Status
60 100 Partly Free

Overview

Ecuador’s internet freedom improved for a second year in a row, as government-led tactics to restrict and punish online activities and skew public debates eased under the new administration of President Lenín Moreno. Newly approved reforms to the repressive Communication Law promise a more open environment for independent media outlets, although provisions criminalizing certain forms of speech are still in place. While public institutions have largely stopped filing politically-motivated takedown notices on copyright grounds, several account suspensions on Twitter targeted sensitive discussions related to the previous government.

President Moreno’s administration, which came to power in 2017, has taken steps to strengthen democratic governance and remove restrictions on civil society and press freedom, in a move away from repressive policies espoused by his predecessor Rafael Correa. A deepening feud between Correa and Moreno resulted in the ruling party splitting into two different movements: Alianza PAIS, led by president Moreno and “Revolución Ciudadana” (Citizens’ Revolution), led by his predecessor.

Key Developments

June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019

  • In February 2019, the National Assembly ratified reforms to the repressive Organic Communication Law. Changes included the elimination of the notorious media regulator, which was in charge of monitoring media content, investigating journalists, and issuing fines and other sanctions (see C2). 

  • In August 2018, the Constitutional Court nullified 2015 amendments to Ecuador’s Constitution, eliminating the characterization of communication as a "public service" and potentially restoring it to a right. Changes to a similar provision in the reformed Communication Law were still pending (see C1).

  • In a case that sparked widespread criticism from digital rights groups, police arrested Swedish programmer and internet activist Ola Bini in Quito on April 11. He spent two months in jail, and remained under investigation for his alleged involvement in illegal hacking, although concrete evidence about his supposed crimes was not made public (see C3). 

  • In April, Ecuador decided to revoke Julian Assange’s asylum in its London embassy. The government accused the Wikileaks founder of using the embassy as a “center for spying.” In March, Wikileaks tweeted a link to an anonymous site dubbed the “INA Papers,” which leaked private photos of Moreno and documents related to offshore accounts under the name of Moreno’s brother (see C3).

A Obstacles to Access

While Ecuador has promoted digital literacy across the country, geographical and socioeconomic gaps in internet access persisted during the coverage period. Reforms to the Organic Communication Law, ratified in February 2019, eliminated the country’s politicized media regulator.

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 46

Access in Ecuador has steadily increased thanks to government campaigns to improve internet access across the country.

Official figures show that some 58.3 percent of people used the internet in 2017.1 However, Ecuador’s fixed broadband penetration ranked relatively low compared to other Latin American countries, at around 11 percent in 2018.2 Six percent of Ecuadorian cantons lack optical fiber to connect to the internet, phone services, and digital television.3 According to Speedtest Global Index, the average download speed for fixed broadband in March 2019 was 16.21 Mbps, and the average upload speed was 13.45 Mbps.4

Meanwhile, mobile internet penetration reached 54.88 percent by the end of 2018.5 The quality of service has improved and become more readily available with the expansion of 4G technology. Government data shows that the number of active lines using 4G technology (LTE and HSPA) increased from almost 3.2 million by the end of 2016 to more than 8 million by July 2018.6

The Pacific Caribbean Cable System (PCCS), a new high-speed fiber-optic cable completed by a consortium of operators in August 2015, represents part of a larger advance in infrastructure improvements in Ecuador.7 The government’s “Universal Service Plan” for 2018-2021 aims to increase availability and access throughout the country, notably by deploying next generation networks such as LTE and fiber optic networks.8

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 13

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 and coastline, as well as the Galapagos Islands. Moreover, a typical household may spend 5 percent of their monthly income on communications (fixed phone, mobile phone, internet, and cable TV).

Given lower full-time employment and people earning less than the minimum wage, internet access is becoming prohibitively expensive for families with lower incomes.1 On average, a monthly internet subscription costs around $30, while the minimum monthly wage for 2019 is $394.2 Meanwhile, 1GB mobile data plans cost on average almost $7, though there is a competitive environment with prices ranging from $0.65 to $20.3 Major network operators offer alternative data plans, such as Claro (600 MB for $6), Movistar (650 MB for $5), and CNT (650 MB for $5).4 Imported mobile phones are subject to taxes which all combined amount to 27.5 percent over the purchasing price.5 In addition, courier services for online purchases to Ecuador started to pay new import taxes in January 2018.6

There is a significant divide in internet access between urban households (46.1 percent) and rural households (16.6 percent).7 Fixed internet subscriptions are still concentrated in two provinces with higher levels of urbanization: Guayas (27.6 percent of subscriptions) and Pichincha (31 percent).8 Among 15-49 year olds, digital illiteracy is also significantly greater in rural areas (21.2 percent) than in urban areas (6 percent), and heavily impacts indigenous people and other minority ethnicities. Digital illiteracy is also greater among women (12 percent) compared to men (8.9 percent).9

Ecuador has made improvements in advancing internet literacy and access for rural areas through programs facilitated by the Ministry of Telecommunications (MINTEL). Ecuador’s state-run “Infocentros” – community centers that began to be installed in June 2012 – provide free internet in rural zones.10 As of September 2018, there were 831 Infocentros and 25 larger “Megainfocentros,” which cover 74 percent of the country’s rural parishes.11

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 66

There were no network shutdowns in Ecuador during the past year, and no evidence of throttling or other intentional disruptions. Social media, communications and video streaming platforms remained readily available.

Ecuador’s physical infrastructure is not highly centralized. There are three submarine cables providing connection to the global internet, and the three major ISPs – two of which are private – control their own national infrastructure.

A provision in the 2015 Organic Law of Telecommunications grants the president the power to unilaterally take over telecommunications services in times of national emergency.1 Civil society groups have raised concerns about the scope of this provision and its potential abuse by the government because of its vague standards and lack of oversight by an independent and impartial court.2 However, there is no hard evidence of abuse in this regard.

  • 1. Asamblea Nacional República del Ecuador, Ley Orgánica de Telecomunicaciones [Telecommunication Law], http://bit.ly/2fsPlKj
  • 2. Katitza Rodriguez, “Leaked Documents Confirm Ecuador’s Internet Censorship Machine,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 14, 2016, http://bit.ly/1W144NE

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 46

Ecuador has four major internet service providers (ISPs) covering nearly 85 percent of users. State-owned National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) has a dominant position with 48.9 percent of market share of fixed internet services. The other three major players are: Megadatos (14.18 percent), Setel (11.65 percent), and Conecel (Claro) (9.22 percent). Mobile service providers, on the other hand, are an oligopoly: Conecel (Claro) represents 52.29 percent of market share, followed by Otecel (Movistar) and CNT.1

Registration with the regulatory agency ARCOTEL is mandatory for ISPs and cybercafés.

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 14

Created by the 2015 Law of Telecommunications, the Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL)–linked to the Ministry of Telecommunications–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, which may undermine the body’s independence.2 ARCOTEL has had frequent turnover in its directors, with seven directors in nearly two years.3 Juan Carlos Martínez, who was removed after just five days in January 2019, claimed that his dismissal was linked to his aim to combat corruption within the agency.4

In past years ARCOTEL’s efforts to redistribute radioelectric frequencies have been criticized for being politicized and lacking transparency.5 Audio leaks released by the media in January 2019 suggest that former ARCOTEL officials fostered unfair competition by awarding concessions to providers whose owners had ties to former vice president Jorge Glas.6

Efforts by access providers and other internet-related organizations to establish self-regulatory mechanisms are allowed and, to a certain extent, promoted. Examples of this include the public assistance to develop public and private Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT); the local internet exchange point (NAP.ec) managed by AEPROVI (Ecuadorian Association of Providers of Internet Services and Information Technologies), and the Ecuadorian IPv6 Task Force, among others. The allocation of digital assets, such as domain names or IP addresses which is done by NIC.ec7 is not controlled by the government.

Created in 2013, Ecuador’s former media regulator, the Superintendency of Information and Communications (SUPERCOM), was highly criticized for acting as a politicized censorship organ.8 The agency was eliminated by the reform to the Communication Law that went into effect in February 2019, and SUPERCOM was set to close by the end of July 2019.9

B Limits on Content

While the government reportedly initiated just one takedown during the coverage period, many Twitter accounts that discussed former President Correa continued to be suspended. Reforms to the Communication Law aimed to lift broad restrictions against media outlets. During the reporting period, social media users mobilized against issues like femicide, though a crowdfunding campaign to investigate Correa suffered from a DDoS attack.

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content? 66

There is no evidence of systematic blocking or filtering of content by the Ecuadorian government. 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.

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? 24

Under former President Rafael Correa’s rule, copyright law was frequently used to censor politically-sensitive content online. 1 This practice has eased considerably under Moreno’s presidency, as public institutions have largely stopped filing takedown notices on copyright grounds.

One government-initiated takedown was reported in April 2019, when the pro-Correa news website Ecuador Inmediato was taken offline for six hours. According to the outlet, the takedown happened after their Canada-based hosting provider iWeb received a complaint from Ecuador’s presidential office regarding copyright infringement, related to the use of YouTube videos and Flickr photos posted by official government accounts.2 Initially, the president’s office denied any involvement with the takedown.3 Subsequently, Ecuador Inmediato published the email that they received showing the claim, which came from copyright[at]presidencia.gob.ec.4 The Secretary of Communications himself, Andrés Michelena, said in a radio interview that the takedown stemmed from the publication of photographs from President Moreno's family holiday.5

On the other hand, account suspensions on Twitter have continued, many of them targeting discussions related to the previous government:

  • On June 16, 2018, the Twitter account of journalist Fernando Villavicencio (@fevillaviVa) was suspended, apparently in retaliation for posting a leaked document from the Office of the Prosecutor referring to investigations into the assassination of General Jorge Gabela in 2010.6 This was the fifth time that accounts belonging to Villavicencio were suspended after posting sensitive news involving Correa. In March 2019, Twitter granted @VillaFernando_ verified status, which is expected to end recurring issues.7
  • On July 17, 2018, the account @CrudoECU was limited for 12 hours after posting a tweet denouncing Correa’s evasion of property taxes by transferring his house to his son.8 On April 13, 2019, the alternative account @CrudoEcuador7 was suspended without explanation; a new account, @CrudoEcuador8, was subsequently created.9
  • On January 3, 2019, user @Shababaty was also suspended after tweeting a link to a news piece related to Julian Assange and his asylum in Ecuador’s Embassy in London.10 The sensitive content was an official letter from the Ecuadorian General Comptroller to Correa.11 Even though Correa shared the same content, his account was not suspended.
  • In the week between March 26 and April 1, 2019, two accounts belonging to the anonymous leaker of “INAPapers” were suspended by Twitter for violating privacy rules.12

Twitter did not issue formal statements related to the repeated suspensions of the Villavicencio and Crudo Ecuador accounts. However, they may have been included on a blacklist because they were previously suspended for publishing third parties’ private data.13 Such private data could have been information about bank accounts, office addresses and properties of public servants scrutinized for mismanagement of public funds, and therefore it was necessary to back the claims in the news reports, according to the affected journalists.14

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 24

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

A significant part of the reform was the elimination of the powerful Superintendency of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM). Under Correa’s government, SUPERCOM had aggressively pursued print media (including all media with an online presence) under accusations of unbalanced reporting and “media lynching”—an allegation that was often applied to investigative reporting in Ecuador.1 The reforms also remove digital media and content providers’ liability over user comments, while upholding their responsibility over editorial content published by non-credited authors.2 The corresponding regulations are expected to be approved in 2020.

ARCOTEL is authorized to block internet domains that violate national laws. ARCOTEL’s agenda for 2019 includes the development of a technical norm that should add more transparency by outlining blocking and notification procedures to be followed by the regulator.3

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 34

Coverage of corruption cases or abuses of power by the current administration has increased. Nonetheless, some journalists have noted that while there is more permissiveness to openly criticize the former administration, some self-censorship remains. News related to drug trafficking and gangs on the Northern border with Colombia must be treated with special care by journalists. In addition, reporting related to the March 2018 kidnapping of three members of the El Comercio news team and their subsequent murder by a Colombian cartel near the Colombian border is restricted: detailed information about the kidnaping and failed negotiations are under state reserve.1 Unofficially, journalists are told to be cautious when reporting on this case, as well as other issues related to drugs cartels.

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 24

Progovernment trolling, harassment of critics, and punitive media restrictions were particularly prevalent under former President Correa, but government-led manipulation tactics have eased significantly since then. Past reports on state-sponsored troll farms in Ecuador revealed efforts to skew public opinion in favor of Correa’s government.1 According to Catalina Botero, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, investigations identified troll IP addresses in government offices.2

During the past year, observers continued to raise concerns about the impact of misleading or false information on public opinion in Ecuador, especially during electoral periods.3 There was still no certainty about the actors behind these trends, though some reports have pointed to groups linked to Correa’s administration. In March 2019, the National Communications Secretariat (SECOM) denounced that certain digital outlets and false social media accounts were manipulating photos, videos, and other information to attack the national government and President Moreno. Their statement suggested that these accounts were “related to former officials and supporters of the former government.”4 In 2017, at the beginning of Moreno’s term, SECOM had also denounced that institutional Twitter and Facebook accounts created by the former government such as “Enlace Ciudadano” (Citizen’s Link) were used to disseminate information that was not authorized by the current administration.5

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 23

Recent reforms of the Communications Law have sought to dismantle broad restrictions on media outlets that encouraged censorship and curtailed financial resources for independent media. Under the now defunct SUPERCOM, print media (including all media with an online presence) faced accusations of unbalanced reporting and “media lynching”—an allegation that was often applied to investigative reporting in Ecuador.

The 2013 Communication Law banned foreign ownership of media in Ecuador, and the 2019 reform maintains the prohibition, according to Article 6. Financial corporations and their shareholders are also banned from investing in media according to the Article 312 of the Constitution as well as article 256 of the Organic Monetary and Financial Code.1

There is a general mandate to protect net neutrality in both the Culture Act (Article 5) and the Telecommunications Act (Articles 3, 4 and 66). However, Article 64 allows ISPs to establish “tariff plans consisting of one or more services, or for one or more products of a service, in accordance with his or her authorization certificates.” This provision may allow providers to set different speeds for different contents, sites or apps. Nonetheless, there is no evidence that ISPs are operating with content discrimination rules that might violate net neutrality.

B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity? 24

A wide array of media outlets has emerged in Ecuador in the last decade. Since blocking of websites is not an issue, regular internet users do not need to use VPNs or other circumvention tools to access online news. However, a history of censorship and polarization, as well as restricted financial resources for independent media prevent entrepreneurial efforts from thriving. As of April 2019, the top ten most popular websites in Ecuador included the digital versions of traditional newspapers and TV channels, such as El Comercio, El Universo and Ecuavisa.1 Nonetheless, some small independent digital media have become influential because of their investigative work; such as Mil Hojas and La Posta.

There are no major digital outlets publishing content in Kichwa, the primary language for at least 10 percent of the Ecuadorian population. There are several very small digital media outlets (e.g. blogs) focused on matters affecting the indigenous population, but they publish content in Spanish rather than indigenous languages.

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 56

There are no legal restrictions around digital advocacy or online communities, and social media continued to be a dynamic tool for social mobilization in Ecuador. In January 2019, social media users flocked to Facebook and Twitter to express indignation about violence against women, which was exemplified by a case of gang rape and a femicide. The hashtags #TodosSomosMartha and #JusticiaParaDiana, as well as the banner “Machismo kills, xenophobia too” were used to rally against femicide and to call for street demonstrations demanding justice.1

Technical attacks and online threats may still thwart certain attempts to mobilize around politically-sensitive topics. In July 2018, digital media outlet La Posta started a crowdfunding campaign to cover expenses to travel to Belgium to investigate Correa’s living conditions since he moved to Brussels when his presidential term ended. After the launch of the campaign #OperaciónQuéVaina, the crowdfunding portal “Haz Vaca” suffered a DDoS attack.2

C Violations of User Rights

The National Assembly approved reforms to the repressive Organic Communication Law in February 2019, including the elimination of the media regulator in charge of investigating journalists and issuing sanctions. An August 2018 Constitutional Court decision will potentially restore the characterization of communication from a “public service” to a right. After Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s asylum was revoked in April 2019, a number of government websites were hit by cyberattacks. In addition, a Swedish programmer and activist who had visited Assange was arrested in Quito and accused of illegal hacking.

C1 0-6 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? 36

Ecuador’s Constitution guarantees “universal access to information technologies and communication” (Article 16.2), and confers the ability to exercise one’s right to communication, information, and freedom of expression (Article 384).

In a promising move, several restrictive provisions contained in the 2013 Communication Law were reformed and enacted in February 2019.1 Important changes included the elimination of the mandatory media code of conduct (article 10) and the figure of media lynching that was used to prevent journalists from investigating corruption. Furthermore, the SUPERCOM, the agency that was in charge of overseeing compliance and sanctioning infractions, was eliminated. Nonetheless, a progressive disposition such as the audience ombudsman – a figure to whom citizens may appeal when discriminatory content is published – was also lost.2

In December 2015, the National Assembly amended Article 384 to include the mandate that “communication as a public service will be provided through public, private and community media” (emphasis added). The move to categorize communication as a public service raised criticism for undermining freedom of expression as a human right and opening the way for broad media regulation.3 In August 2018, the Constitutional Court nullified the 2015 amendments, which eliminated the characterization of communication as a "public service" and potentially restored it to a right.4 However, the 2019 reforms to the Communication Law, in its article 5, maintains that media "provide a public service."5 In January 2019, President Moreno sent to the Nationally Assembly a partial reform to the Communication Law to address article 5, removing the "public service" characterization and reinstating communication as a right.6 At the end of June 2019, the National Assembly has not yet debated this matter.

In March 2019, a proposal to reform the Organic Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information was presented to the National Assembly. The proposal aims to limit the scope of “reserved information” that has been used to curtail access to public information in the past.7 The matter was pending debate in July 2019.

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities? 24

A lack of legislation specifically targeting online speech has allowed journalists and bloggers to enjoy relatively higher levels of freedom online than offline. During his second year in office, President Moreno pushed through promised reforms to punitive legislation that led to systematic abuses in the past, though the country still retains provisions that may threaten freedom of expression online, including criminal provisions against libel.

Changes to the penal code that entered into force in August 2014 eliminated criminal charges for insult, but retained them for slander and libel.1 Article 396 notably punishes expressions that “discredit or dishonor” with imprisonment of 15 to 30 days. Article 179 restricts protections for whistleblowers by establishing a prison sentence of six months to one year for any person “who, by virtue of his/her 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 exception for revealing information in the public interest. Article 229 places further restrictions on divulging information by banning the revelation of registered information, databases, or archives through electronic systems in a way that violates the intimacy or privacy of someone else, with no exceptions for whistleblowers or journalists. Article 307 establishes a penalty of five to seven years in prison for creating economic panic by “publishing, spreading, or divulging false news that causes harm to the national economy in order to alter the prices of goods.”

On the other hand, controversial legislative proposals for social media regulation have also emerged. On February 25, 2019, a group of National Assembly representatives introduced a bill on the "responsible use of social media."2 The bill would hold digital platforms liable and proposes up to 3 years in prison for disclosing personal information, including information about public figures, or for abusive or false information. Digital rights groups heavily criticized the proposal for its negative impact on freedom of expression online, though it had not yet been scheduled for debate.3

Other legislative proposals were still pending. On March 28, a proposal for a Digital Security Law was presented to the National Assembly. The law’s stated aim is “to detect and block hackers attempting to interfere and break information networks from the existing systems within the country” (sic).4 There was also an initiative to draft a cybersecurity law. As of May 2019, the Telecommunications Minister was working on the early stages of this project, and little was known regarding its normative orientation. Ministerial changes may delay the final draft and its submission to the National Assembly.

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities? 36

A prominent case against a Swedish digital security expert with links to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gained international attention and sparked widespread criticism among digital rights activists. On April 11, Ecuadorian police arrested programmer Ola Bini, who was placed under investigation for his “alleged participation in attacks against the integrity of computer systems.”1 Based on the lack of incriminating information, human rights defenders said that his arrest was arbitrary.2 His detention was connected with allegations of a scheme to blackmail President Moreno over Ecuador’s disassociation from Julian Assange,3 as Bini had visited Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London over ten times, according to the Ecuadorian government. Other than such encounters with Assange, no evidence of Bini´s involvement in illegal activities was made public.4

Bini was arrested on the same day that British authorities removed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. After more than six years, Ecuador revoked his asylum.5 Moreno asserted that Assange was establishing a spy center within the Embassy from which the Australian hacker was interfering with democratic instability in several countries, including Ecuador.6 In March 2019, Wikileaks tweeted a link to an anonymous site called the INA Papers, now defunct, which disclosed content from President Moreno and his wife’s personal email accounts, Telegram and WhatsApp messages, family pictures, and documents related to offshore accounts under the name of Moreno’s brother. 7

Ecuadorian open source and open data communities supported the hashtag #FreeOlaBini as a widespread campaign demanded his release.8 Bini was finally released from his detention on June 21, after the Provincial Court of Pichincha granted his lawyers request for habeas corpus.9 However, the investigation against him for attacks against state security was still ongoing.10

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 34

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

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

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 26

Ecuador has a history of government surveillance of citizens, at least since 2013. Created in 2009, the national intelligence agency, SENAIN (National Secretariat of Intelligence), was in charge of producing “strategic SIGINT [signals intelligence] for the integral security of the state, society and democracy.” Most of its budget was allocated to “special expenses for communications and counterintelligence.”1 During Correa´s administration, evidence mounted that the government engaged in surveillance of a wide range of individuals, as leaked documents have exposed illegal spying on politicians, journalists, and activists.2

In September 2018, President Moreno eliminated SENAIN and created the Strategic Intelligence Center (Centro de Inteligencia Estratégica – CIES).3 The CIES is mandated to operate “within the current constitutional framework, so that during the execution of intelligence activities, strategic intelligence and counterintelligence, only information that contributes to public and State security will be produced.”4 Nonetheless, CIES received all the functions, competences, attributions, rights, obligations, resources, and budget previously allocated to SENAIN.5

Ecuador’s intelligence agency has access to extensive surveillance capabilities. A recent investigation by the New York Times showed that the national emergency response system known as ECU911 was a central piece of a massive surveillance system under Correa.6 The system began to be developed in 2011 by the Chinese state company CEIEC, as well as Huawei. There are more than 4,000 cameras deployed across the country. These cameras transmit live to the ECU911 headquarters and a direct mirror of the ECU911 cameras is reportedly found at SENAIN (now CIES) offices.7 There have also been reports about the application of facial recognition technology in certain areas such as airports, and the introduction of a new system to locate and track mobile phones.8

Leaks over the past few years have pointed to government investments in spying software to conduct surveillance. In July 2015, many of these suspicions were bolstered when the Italian technology company Hacking Team suffered a cyberattack, which resulted in the leak of emails showing contracts between Hacking Team and the Ecuadorian government.9 According to a technical analysis by “ilv”, a Tor Project developer, the government targeted judges, members of the national electoral council, political parties, and political movements.10

SENAIN also made use of information gathered by public agencies and stored in the government platform Dato Seguro. This website, administered by the National Directorate of Public Data Registry (DINARDAP), claimed their data was encrypted in transit and on its servers.11 However, public entities, the Registry included, were legally obliged to provide any information required by SENAIN as long as this request had been communicated to the president.12 Current DINARDAP director, Lorena Naranjo, asserted in October 2018 that in accordance with the Constitution, the agency is currently devoted to protecting personal data that circulates among government agencies.13

C6 0-6 pts
Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users? 46

Under the rules of the Telecommunications Law, 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

ISPs can receive orders from a judge to provide communication data to law enforcement agencies. Content intercepted during internet surveillance is admissible in court and can be used to convict criminals under Articles 476 and 528 of the Criminal Code. Since 2015, the Subsystem for Interception of Communications or Computer Data (SICOM) of the General Attorney allows interception of voice calls and text messages (SMS) of criminal suspects.3

Mobile operators are required to implement technology that would automatically provide the physical location of cellphone users for emergency purposes, within an accuracy range of 50 meters.4

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities? 35

Reporters and social media personalities have generally experienced lower levels of intimidation during the past couple of years, and there were no reports of physical attacks against ICT users. However, former President Correa continued to encourage his followers to find and release personal information about Twitter users who criticize him. Two journalists of La Posta reported in July 2018 that they received threats via WhatsApp and Twitter after they launched an investigation about Correa’s living conditions in Belgium. They were also victims of doxing after their residential addresses were shared on Twitter.1

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 13

A few technical attacks targeted media websites during the past year. On June 21, 2018, the news commentary website 4Pelagatos suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that took the site offline for around 15 hours.1 The investigative journalism website Plan V also suffered a similar attack on May 30, 2018. These attacks occurred after the publication of pieces referring to a corruption case under Rafael Correa´s administration.

In April 2019, after Julian Assange’s asylum was revoked, the government reported a series of cyberattacks (mainly DDoS), apparently in connection with the #FreeAssange campaign. Attacks were mainly coming from the United States, Brazil, Holland, Germany, Romania, France, Austria, United Kingdom, and from within Ecuador. Numerous government websites were targeted, including the foreign ministry, central bank, the presidential office, and tax authorities.2 Between April 18 and 19, the Constitutional Court’s website suffered an attack from Turkey,3 and the site also was defaced to say “Owned For Julian Assange” in an action claimed by Turkish Hackers.4 According to the Ecuadorian Corporation for the Development of Research and Academia (CEDIA), its Computer Incident Response Team (CSIRT) responded to the incidents to mitigate their impact. They recorded leaks of information stored in a dozen sites; defacement of five websites; seven cases of unauthorized access to systems; and a large number of DDoS attacks on websites and networks.5

In September 2019, after the coverage period of this report, it was revealed that the majority of Ecuadorians had their personal information exposed on the server of a data analytics company. The government quickly launched an investigation and stated that a new data protection law would be submitted to the National Assembly.6

Country Facts

  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    No
  • Users Arrested

    Yes

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