On 16 May the Venezuelan government issued Executive Order 2489 to extend the “state of emergency” in Venezuela, in place since May 2016. This new extension authorises internet policing and content filtering. This measure deepens the restrictions to the free flow of information online even more. They include the blocking of streaming news outlets, such as VivoPlay, VPITV, and CapitolioTV. Other serious practices that prevail in Venezuela are the aggressions of military and police personnel to journalists and civilian reporters, and the detention of citizens in the wake of content published on social networks.
This happens in a context of a general deterioration of telecommunications, as a consequence of the divestment in the sector in the last 10 years. This has turned Venezuela into the country with the worst internet connection quality in the Latin American region. Given the censorship practices applied to traditional media, the internet has become an essential tool for the freedom of expression and access to information of the Venezuelan people.
The measures taken by the Venezuelan Government to restrict online content constitute restrictions to the fundamental rights of Venezuelan citizens and, as such, do not comply with the minimum requirements of proportionality, legality, and suitability. The Venezuelan Government has systematically ignored civil society requests regarding the total number of blocked websites. To this date, there is evidence of the blocking of 41 websites, but it is suspected that many more websites are being blocked. The legal and technical processes applied by the government to determine and execute the blocking of websites remain unknown.
These kinds of practices affect the exercise of human rights. In a joint release, the rapporteurs for freedom of expression of the UN and the IACHR condemned the “censorship and blocking of information both in traditional media and on the internet”. During the last few months, three streaming tv providers have been blocked without a previous court order. Moreover, the Government has used unregulated surveillance technologies that affect the fundamental rights of citizens, such as surveillance drones to track and watch demonstrators, while at the same time expanding its internet surveillance prerogatives, through the creation of bodies such as CESPPA.
In addition to this, the government has implemented mechanisms for the collection of biometric data without citizens being able to determine their purpose nor who has access to such information. The official discourse towards the internet, and specifically to social networks, is disturbing: the director of the National Telecommunications Commission has recently declared that social networks are “dangerous” and a tool for “non-conventional war”.
The sum of this factors, aggravated by the passage of time and the deepening of the social and political crisis, outlines the creation of a state of censorship, control, and surveillance that gravely affects the exercise of human rights. Quality access to a free and neutral internet is recognised internationally as a necessary condition for the exercise of freedom expression, communication and the access to information, and as a precondition of the existence of a democratic society. In that regard, the undersigned civil society and academic organisations wish to set our position in the following terms:
We express our condemnation to the extension of the state of exception in Venezuela, as well as to the restrictions to the free flow of online content that derive from it.
We manifest our concern for the growing deterioration of internet access infrastructure and telecommunications in Venezuela. The maintenance of such systems is of vital importance for education, innovation, and the communication of Venezuelans.
We emphasise that the use and implementation of technological tools such as drones and biometric identification systems must fit human rights standards and not affect the fundamental freedoms of citizens, in particular their privacy and autonomy.
We insist that all measures that restrict the free exercise of fundamental rights, such as the blocking of web pages, must comply with the minimum requisites of proportionality, legality and suitability, and in consequence, must be only adopted by judicial authorities following a due process.
We request the ending of the harassing actions and insulting speech conducted by public servants online against NGOs and human rights activists that document and denounce acts through digital platforms.
We demand the cessation of military and police aggressions against journalists and citizen reporters.
We request transparency on the actions taken to restrict internet traffic and content and demand an answer to the requests for public information made by civil society regarding the practices of content blocking and filtering executed by the public administration.
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Acceso Libre (Venezuela)
(DTES-ULA) Dirección de Telecomunicaciones y Servicios de la Universidad de los Andes
Espacio Público (Venezuela)
Son Tus Datos (México)
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
EXCUBITUS Derechos Humanos en Educación
Sursiendo, comunicación y cultura digital
Red en defensa de los derechos digitales, R3D
Global Voices Advox
Asuntos del Sur
Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders)
Center for Media Research – Nepal
Index on Censorship