Cuba’s New Telecommunications Regulations Stir Controversy

Cuba’s New Telecommunications Regulations Stir Controversy

HAVANA, Aug. 25th   (IPS-Cuba) Concepts such as cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare, new crimes that are categorized thanks to years of feminist struggles,

such as cyberbullying or bullying, regulations about spreading fake news and banning the diffusion of sexual or discriminatory content, are some of the precepts of the latest telecommunications laws that were announced in Cuba, on August 17th.

All of this and more is now outlined in three decree-laws and three resolutions that were just published in Cuba’s Official Gazette.

These include Decree-Law no. 35, the first executive law passed in the country about Telecommunications services, ICTs and the Use of Radioelectric Spectrum, the Ministry of Communications announced on Tuesday.

According to analysts, it’s not coincidental that these laws have appeared exactly a month after the July 11th protests, which were greatly impacted by messages, campaigns and calls made on social media both inside and outside the Caribbean island, for and against the protests that took place in dozens of cities and towns.

What do the new laws regulate and/or censor?

The five laws deserve greater analysis in order to understand their medium and long-term implications. However, some points have already been made for and against these laws from a quick look at them, and controversy has been stirred.

In terms of positive points, Decree-Law 35 recognizes that users have a right to “equal and affordable conditions to accessing public telecommunications services, (…) and to receive a quality service.”

They have the right to be guaranteed these services, “under the principle of inviolability and privacy, as well as “receiving compensation for the interruption to the service due to defects that are attributable to operators or suppliers.”

The question needs to be asked whether this is a mechanism that might allow for more well-aimed complaints, even lawsuits, at Cuba’s state telecommunications company (ETECSA).

Is this talk of operators and suppliers, in the plural, real, by chance or a grammatical slip-up, as Etecsa is Cuba’s only provider on the Caribbean island?

These are questions that stem from a decree-law which, on the other hand, also points out that it is the duty of users to prevent the services they purchase from being used to “carry out actions or spread information that is offensive or harmful to human dignity, sexual and discriminatory content; that leads to bullying, which affects a person’s or family’s private life or their image and owns..”

Up until this point, the new law answers to a year-long civic demand for laws that contextualize and criminalize cyberbullying, revenge porn and hate speech linked to gender, race or disabilities on social media.

In the same vein, the decree-law bans the use of these services to “attack Security, the country’s Public Order, to spread fake reports or news, or inactions that target damages or loss to third parties and as a means to commit illegal activities.” From this point of view, the law would seem logical, according to international standards.

However, uncertainty about how this law will be applied seems to be growing alongside citizens’ concerns about one of the approved resolutions, no. 105: “National Action Model to respond to incidents of Cybersecurity.”

The good, the bad, the human and telecommunications

According to representatives from the Ministry of Telecommunications, this resolution is the first time that “the country would have a legal regulation that would join cybersecurity incidents and classifications that exceed the limits of technology,” according to state-owned newspaper Cubadebate.

On the one hand, the authorities are recognizing that cases that had no legal framework before, are now being categorized in this legal document. The resolution establishes an action protocol in the face of a “security incident”, including the stages and measures to bear in mind, and a classification depending on the category and danger level.

Degrading actions and expressions of gender-based violence are also figure in this document, which has been taken to trial as incidents against an individual in the categories of pornography, cyberbullying and grooming. There’s no doubt that this law has one thing in its favour.

However, while a group of the population have approved the resolution, another group have expressed concern about possible interpretations and the application of some of its articles.

These include the “media echo of fake news” and “harmful diffusion”, as they are considered extremely dangerous; the former is linked to spreading fake news, insulting messages and slander which affect national prestige; the second, with “spreading content that attacks the State’s constitutional, social and economic precepts, inciting mobilization or other acts that disturb public order.”

Such definitions are ambiguous and can give rise to different interpretations and applications, according to many users on digital platforms or networks, such as Facebook, initially.

In this regard, Ramon, a user of Cubadebate, said, “social media has always been a channel for complaints, now this legal framework will not only prevent fake news but also real news which is told and ignored a lot of the time. Extremes have never been good.”

Meanwhile, another user lamented in the website’s forum that the measures will increase “restrictions” that Cuban citizens already have “on expressing themselves freely.”