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In July, Ecuador approved a regulation for users of telecommunications and value-added services through the National Telecommunications Council. It establishes fundamental principles that defend the rights and interests of citizens, such as found in the concept of net neutrality. The regulation broadly guarantees users in the community to freely contract services and terminate those contracts.

However there are also problematic articles that can potentially threaten the privacy of users and, therefore, their freedom of expression by inhibiting their ability to freely disseminate their opinions and information. Article 29 of the regulation establishes, amongst other things, that telecommunications and value-added service providers will have to hand over, “at the request of the Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones), the IP addresses of its subscribers and clients/users, on the terms, conditions and time frame established by said organisation.”

Neither in this article nor in the rest of the regulation is there reference to the necessity of a judicial order for requesting IP addresses. In accordance with national and international law, an order from the competent authority should always be required. Nor are reasons given as to why this information would be sought from service providers. These reasons must be explicit and must fall within the framework established by national and international human rights instruments. Without these aspects being clearly specified in the regulation, there is the risk that it will be used discretionarily for surveillance and will lead to sanctions on legitimate expression and other violations of human rights.

Citizen reactions were swift. The Association of internet users of Ecuador is elaborating alternative proposals and is already meeting with representatives of the government, and while the authorities seem open to dialogue with some organizations, its public response to the critiques is problematic. The Communications Regulatory Agency (Superintendencia de Comunicaciones), for example, accused those who questioned the regulation of spreading “false rumors” to create fear in citizens.

Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression,  expressed in a report that “the internet allows individuals to access information and to engage in public debate without having to reveal their real identities, for example, through use of pseudonyms […]. At the same time, the internet also presents new tools and mechanisms with which both the state and private actors can monitor and collect information on individuals’ communications and activities on the internet. Such practices can constitute a violation of internet users’ right to privacy and, by undermining people’s confidence and security on the internet, impede the free flow of information and ideas online.”

The current situation in Ecuador shows the need for state assessments of human rights in general to include human rights on the internet. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed “the importance of doing human rights impact assessments when designing internet policies. The right of users to privacy, security and access to- and disseminating information, should guide policy development […] Guarantees should be considered in order to ensure that restrictions of access to content on the internet are not arbitrary or excessive.”

Imagen via Flickr de pixelthing .