Photo: El Estímulo, retrieved.

Yesterday morning, a small National Guard uprising in the Caracas barrio of Cotiza made global news. But plenty of people living just blocks away didn’t hear of it, because not content with blocking broadcast news about it, the State telecom company Cantv temporarily blocked social media sites Twitter and Instagram, nationwide. Caracas Chronicles confirmed the digital blockade independently.

Days ago, Cantv blocked Wikipedia. Even in the face of evidence confirming it as a unilateral move, the government vehemently denies it.

Worse, this kind of thing may be about to become legal. Well, “legal”.

Why? Because a proposed new “Cyberspace Law” under consideration by the infamous Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, would give the government a complete stranglehold over the Venezuelan internet.

The bill for the new law has been leaked to local media outlets. It’s not pretty.

AccessNow.org, a non-profit group dedicated to defend digital rights, has more details. They also posted a copy of the draft of the bill, so people can see it for themselves.

Not content with blocking broadcast news about it, the State telecom company Cantv temporarily blocked social media sites Twitter and Instagram, nationwide.

“The proposal—called the Constitutional Law of Cyberspace of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela—declares Venezuelan sovereignty over cyberspace, stating that its use in any form is a matter of public and strategic interest impacting the ‘integral defense’ of the nation. In order to establish ‘internal peace’ and ‘political order,’ the bill proposes the creation of an all-powerful authority to manage and control the internet in Venezuela.”

Reviewing the bill isn’t easy, as it reads more like a threat list than actual legislation. Well, its predecessors (the RESORTE Law and the Anti-Hate Law) aren’t much better either. Also, they throw around the “cyber” prefix so much, that if you play a drinking game, you’ll get alcohol poisoning.

One of the biggest issues with this is the establishment of preemptive censorship over content and disregard for all constitutional protections and due process. It also pressures citizens and companies to collaborate in fighting against “terrorism”.

And for privacy advocates, I got very, very bad news: the Venezuelan state could access your personal information at any time, in the name of “defense and security.”

The law creates a brand new entity to control the internet, a cyber-CESSPA on steroids, but the actual viability of this structure at this time is doubtful at best, given the diminished resources the government has at its disposal and the faulty state of related infrastructure. Verdad, Cantv?

This is all based on the core concept of “cyber-sovereignty”. Countries consider cyberspace as an extension of their territory, therefore, they have the obligation to defend it, even by limiting human rights for the sake of “peace and stability”.

In recent years, two nations have been leading the idea of applying such cyber-sovereignty: The People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation. Of course, these two are not exactly beacons of liberty; to understand their kind of repressive attitude, just look at the recent issues they want to tackle: male earrings and rap music.

One of the biggest issues with this is the establishment of preemptive censorship over content and disregard for all constitutional protections and due process.

Strong reactions to this dangerous legislative proposal have appeared at home and abroad. From Edison Lanza, the IAHRC’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, to a group of  local NGOs and individuals who denounced it in a written statement (which I strongly support).

But truth is, if this law is eventually passed, the current dynamic of harassment and persecution against online users wouldn’t change much. In its recent annual report, NGO Human Rights Watch remembers the case of Pedro Jaimes (@AereoMeteo), who is under arrest since May 2018:

“In May, members of the Bolivarian Service of National Intelligence (SEBIN) detained Pedro Jaimes Criollo for mentioning the presidential plane’s route, which was public information, on Twitter. Criollo has been charged with crimes including espionage and revealing political secrets. Neither his family nor lawyers from the Venezuelan group Espacio Público who are working on the case were allowed to see or talk to him for over a month. He has told his family that security agents have brutally beaten him. At the time of writing, he remained in an overcrowded cell, without access to medical treatment.”

But that doesn’t mean we should take this lightly. Marianne Díaz says it better than me:

“The current fragility of the digital environment in Venezuela demands norms that regulate technologies by enshrining basic principles of proportionality, legality and neutrality. This draft bill represents the entire opposite, and it’s a grave threat to the fundamental rights of Venezuelan citizens and, in general, to the internet ecosystem.”

Make no mistake, this bill can be called a gobbledygook. Yet, it’s very dangerous to let it slide.

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