Government Strengthens Its Control Over Content on the Web

Access to the web from Wifi sites had been a breath of fresh “informative” air for Cubans. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón/ Yoani Sánchez, Miami/Havana, 5 July 2019 — The control that the Government has had over the media for years has a mirror for the virtual world. So far, online publications have been able to escape the legal censorship that weighs on analogue media, but the days are numbered for that status.

This Thursday, the authorities published a set of laws “on the computerization of society in Cuba” that have as their objective, “to elevate technological sovereignty for the benefit of the society, the economy, security and national defense” and “to counteract the cybernetic aggressions.”

One of the contraventions that has generated the most controversy so far is the penalty for “disseminating, through public networks of data transmission, information contrary to the social interest, morals, good customs and integrity of people.” Several users on social networks have expressed concern that this section is aimed at controlling opinions on the networks.

“This is like the Law of Pre-Criminal Dangerousness, but in the world of cyberspace. It is a tool to be used against those who annoy the system,” says an independent journalist. With these regulations, the Cuban government expands the control it has over printed matter and media circulating on paper throughout the national territory, to the web.

In addition, the new regulations prohibit “hosting a site on servers located in a foreign country, other than as a mirror or replica of the main site servers located in national territory.” With this measure, the government makes illegal dozens of blogs, media and magazines that have emerged in the last decade and are characterized so far by their ability to escape state control.

The measure not only affects informational sites and digital spaces dedicated to activism, but also portals dedicated to the promotion of accommodations for tourists, others focused on classified sales and those that promote private restaurants. The fine for contravening the regulation can amount to 1,000 CUP, a figure close to the average monthly salary on the island, recently raised to 1,067 Cuban pesos.

The new regulations require companies to use national antivirus software. Should the user prefer to use a foreign antivirus software, they must get authorization from the Ministry of Communications. In addition, mobile phones that are marketed within Cuban must use apps developed on the island.

The system electronic control internet access by the Government, the creation of applications for the payment of services and the terms of  legalization — effective as of July 29 — of the private data networks that have operated clandestinely throughout the country, are some of the measures covered by this policy that are criticized by some sectors, which see it as one more form of control.

The measures could directly affect the network of independent media that have proliferated on the island in recent years as a result of the emergence of new technologies. From portals dedicated to sports, to fashion and even to news portals that are produced primarily with reporters and journalists based in the country.

At the end of April, and for the first time, hosting service for websites operated by natural persons began to be offered in Cuba. However, the announcement was met with skepticism and criticism due to costs ranging from 1.50 to 55 CUC per month.

After the publication of the offer on official sites, Internet users demonstrated their dissatisfaction. For example, a user with the pseudonym Nick Bombadil insisted that “with these prices international hosting is more profitable , offers more storage space and bandwith, and in addition eliminates ‘the eyes of Etecsa’ [the State telecommunications company] watching from above.”

A user identified as Berta said the announcement “is not serious” because “prices are sky high and connectivity is terrible. Who is going to be responsible if there is an attack on the server or an avalanche of traffic,” she lamented.

In the digital site Web Hosting Secret Revealed, dedicated to reporting web hosting options worldwide, the designer and computer expert Jerry Low detailed the best deals of this type as of the middle of this year. In the list of the ten best companies, the monthly price varied between $4.00 and $9.95, with capacity to host from one domain to an unlimited number.

“These are resolutions that, in the manner of Decree 349 [which regulates artistic dissemination] and the latest regulations on wireless signals, are designed not to be applied in their entirety against anyone who contravenes them, but rather as a matter of discretion against individuals, independent media and certain phenomena of diffusion of content,” says the tweeter and lawyer Luis Carlos Rojas, a resident of Havana.

“They are inserted in the same line that we have seen other regulations in recent months: to give the Government control over certain phenomena, especially those linked to the dissemination of content, the transmission of information and the presence of critical voices in social networks” says the young jurist.

For Rogelio A. Yero, the danger lies in how this new legislation can be interpreted. “I wonder who will define whether a publication is or not in accordance with the interests of Cuban society,” warns the Internet user in reference to one of the law’s clauses which forbids the “spread, through public networks of data transmission, information contrary to the social interest, morals, good customs and the integrity of people.”

The journalist Elaine Díaz, director of the site Periodismo de Barrio , called the Ministry of Communication to obtain more information about to reference to web hosting in another country. “I was referred to a specialist, the specialist tells me that it applies to any natural person. I asked him if I want to have a WordPress blog not on a national server what happens. He told me it is forbidden.”

 @DiazCanelB Presidente, ¿why is it prohibited for natural citizens to host sites on foreign servers?

— Elaine Díaz (@elainediaz2003) July 5, 2019

“I speak with a second specialist, he says yes, it applies to any natural citizen. I ask him if I have my blog on WordPress and I do not want to have it on a national server, can I be fined?” He replies: “Well, if they detect it,” says Díaz.

The opponent and former prisoner of the Black Spring, José Daniel Ferrer, has gone a step further and announced his attitude of rejection of the new legislation. “I solemnly declare that I will fully violate the new and dictatorial technologies regulations of tyranny, nor do I pay fines,” the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) wrote on the Twitter social network.


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