14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 November 2019 — A decade ago, Cuban official television broadcast a series of programs to try to discredit opponents, independent journalists, activists and bloggers. In several episodes of that series private emails, telephone recordings and intelligence footage were aired that “showed” the alleged crimes committed by these citizens.
Few viewers were surprised that the emails, calls or text-only messages of the victims of the official propaganda apparatus were made public. We have been so accustomed to the Cuban Big Brother stalking everywhere that it seems normal to many that State Security rummages through our mobiles, records in our own homes and monitors our electronic correspondence.
This week, the State Council set out three legal rules that capture what has been done in the shadows for decades. Decree-Law 389, published this November 18 in the Official Gazette, modifies the Criminal Code, the Law of Criminal Procedure and the Law of Acts against Terrorism, to regulate covert investigation techniques.
Now, the figure of the effective collaborator has been put in writing, in addition to formalizing electronic or other surveillance, along with the calls monitored. Practices that will be carried out in the face of criminal acts that, “due to their seriousness, connotation or organization, require it, including operations whose origin or destination is outside the country.”
Thus, the information obtained from the “electronic or other surveillance,” which was already used to judge and condemn an individual, is now sanctified by law and even wrapped in a rhetoric of protection of citizenship and national sovereignty.
In a court the alleged evidence that provides “the listening and recording of voices, location and monitoring, photographic fixations and filming of images, intervention of communications of any kind, access to computerized systems and other technical resources that allow knowing and prove the criminal act.” It will not be necessary for a judge to previously authorize these procedures.
We will have to wait to check the scope and effectiveness of these new regulations. Because, in recent years, we have added new tools to the old methods to protect ourselves as citizens, especially focused on protecting our presence in the networks. I imagine that after the publication of this decree, these practices will increase significantly.
If before we put the television at full volume when we were going to have a “complicated” conversation, now we must add to that trick the armoring of our mobile phones with VPN services and “firewalls” that prevent, or at least reduce, the police snooping. To the gesture of hiding the bag with the merchandise from the black market from the eyes of our neighbors, we have now added covering the laptop camera so that they do not film us through it without our realizing it.
After every step taken by the political police to get into our lives, citizen countermeasures have emerged. The metaphors have proliferated and the messages have been filled with phrases such as “the corner light is still on” to warn an activist that he is being watched, while some Cuban engineers already market devices to detect hidden microphones, or to isolate a cell phone and prevent it from being used remotely to listen to us.
However, Big Brother has all the mechanisms to delve into our lives. In the end, he owns the only existing telephone service in the country, he has a large army of informants, controls all the terminals that offer web browsing service in state premises, has trained thousands of potential cyber-police at the University of Computer Science and lacks any ethical limit when it comes to handling private information.
Faced with this ruthless offensive against freedoms on the part of the Plaza of the Revolution, there is no Faraday cage to protect us.
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