Cuba approved Decree No. 35 and regulated telecommunications and cyber crimes. This is the first law passed on the island related to crimes committed on the internet, which recognizes the ethical and social harms of digital aggression.
The text came into force a week ago and has already become a source of controversy on social networks and traditional media that denounce it as a “gag law”.
This is because the new legislation typifies the dissemination of false news with the intention of subverting the constitutional order as a crime and seeks to promote “an ethical and good internet for the population”. Thus, the text establishes duties and rights, including equal access to public internet and broadcasting services.
The text establishes the Universal Telecommunications Service (SUT), which comprises the entire telecommunications, broadcasting and internet system in the country, offered by the State, through the Empresa de Telecomunicações de Cuba SA (Etecsa). Private services can only be provided with authorization from the Ministry of Telecommunications.
The 129-article regulation establishes 17 offenses with levels of dangerousness ranging from medium to very high, including cyberterrorism. The Office of Computer Network Security (OSRI, its acronym in Spanish) was also created to receive complaints.
Due to the US blockade, the Cuban state does not have direct contracts with companies that develop social networking platforms, such as: Facebook, Twitter, or even other giants in the digital world, such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon. The new law legally authorizes Etecsa to cut off the internet, impose fines, confiscate chips or phones from natural or legal persons linked to pages that spread false news.
According to official data, in 2020 alone, the blockade generated an estimated loss of US$ 65 million, around R$ 340 million, in the telecommunications area. The Cuban state also cannot acquire equipment with more than 10% of its composition manufactured in the USA. Applications, servers and international trade domains that relate to US institutions are banned by the White House.
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The deputy minister of the Ministry of Communications, Ernesto Rodríguez Hernández, assured that the new norms “promote the advancement of the computerization of society, defending the rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution: equality, privacy and confidentiality of communications.”
#Ley Decree35, this is the highest-ranking normative approved in #Cuba on ICT, communications and the use of the radio spectrum; defines the sovereign defense in the use of the radio spectrum, as well as the role of telecommunications for development pic.twitter.com/SxmaHHZfF8
— Ministerio de Comunicaciones Cuba (@MINCOMCuba) August 19, 2021
The last section of the new norm addresses the need to increase investments and infrastructure in the area to expand the computerization of Cuban society.
“If Cuba today has access to the internet and enjoys this service, it is not thanks to the United States, but despite them. The blockade remains the main obstacle to free and sovereign access to the internet,” said Ismara Vargas Walter, director of Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba.
The law was approved just over a month after the July 11 protests, considered the biggest opposition demonstrations since 1994. The call was made online and the slogans “SOS Cuba” and “Pátria e Vida” were posted on social networks through accounts registered abroad.
At the time, the Cuban government claimed to be the victim of cyber attacks on computers registered in the United States, France and Turkey.
Read more: Cuba: Meet the opposition figures who promoted the demonstrations
However, government officials reiterate that the text has been under discussion since April this year, three months before the demonstrations. During this period, Cuban-American congressmen from the Republican party began a campaign demanding that the White House “bring the Internet to Cuba” through the Guantanamo Military Base — territory occupied by US troops on the island.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reiterated that any attempt by the United States to invade Cuban territory with drones or other equipment would be a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
The text, published on August 17, is in line with a resolution approved by the United Nations Office of Cybersecurity in 2017, which encourages member states to “foster capacity and knowledge in information and communication technology in national bodies to monitor content on social media related to terrorism”.
:: At the UN, 184 countries voted against the blockade imposed by the US on Cuba ::
According to a survey by Interpol, cyber attacks increased during the pandemic. During the first four months of 2020 alone, 907,000 emails with viruses and 48,000 websites that promote cybercrime were detected using false information related to covid-19.
Other countries like the United States, France and Germany have legislation that seeks to control internet traffic, under the justification of fighting terrorism. In the UK, cybercrimes can lead to 14 years in prison to life in prison. However, none of these governments are accused of trying to persecute opponents.
Cuban authorities reiterate that the new law seeks to regulate the entire service, ensuring investigations into complaints that may be made by natural or legal persons.
“It opens up the possibility of notifications about incidents such as cyber-abuse, false news, pederast abuses or other problems that the population can notify and an investigation will be opened into these activities”, explained the director of cybersecurity Ministry of Communications, Pablo Domínguez Vázquez.
Edition: Thales Schmidt