Cuba: Cyber Harassment, Hacks and Privacy Violations

In recent months, private messages, intimate photos and personal online conversations of artivists, independent journalists and representatives from Cuban state institutions have been circulated, which is a violation of their constitutional right to privacy.

By IPS-Cuba

Posting private messages and intimate photos has become a form of not only personal, but also political intimidation.  Photo: Taken from elperiodico.com

HAVANA TIMES – Ever since 2016, IPS Cuba’s editorial team has been warning that: crimes relating to online rights – such as revenge porn and cyberbullying – have impunity on social media in Cuba. This hasn’t only been a matter of gender-based violence in recent months, though, it has also become a political attack.

Four years ago, experts and researchers were even warning about the growing emergency in the country in terms of intimidation tactics on digital technology.

The president of the Cuban Society of Law and I.T at the time, Yarina Amoroso, warned about the need to end impunity of digital crimes.

“We can’t allow harassment online, instigating rencor, pornography and any other act that harms our good customs, cohabitation and values that are universally recognized as human and dignifying,” she insisted in an interview with IPS Cuba.

Four years later, the situation is exactly the same. Or worse. For a few months now, private photos, messages or photos belonging to activists, independent journalists, state media hosts or representatives from state institutions have apeared on controversal and popular shows on social media, independent media and personal profiles.

In recent leaks, we can even see a growing homophobic trend, posting messages with homoerotic conversations, trying to make us question the sexual orientation or gender identity of those involved in the leaks. In most cases, these revelations are made to men with details of their personal lives, almost always linked to alleged homosexual relationships.

This questionable trend is growing every day and is stirring great controversy among those who support or oppose the government, and amongst the general population.

Social rejection

Reactions came pouring in immediately after these violations of people’s privacy: colleagues, celebrities, movements, activists, general society have all spoken out against these illegal revelations. Small campaigns and support for victims are even still circulating on social media.

Yasmany Perez Llorente, an Internet user who commented on one of these leaks on Facebook, doesn’t believe that any political cause justifies exposing people’s private lives.

Some people believe these posts have been an action/reaction between different pro-government and opposition groups, who are using homophobia as an attack tactic.

Meanwhile, Yoly Guerra believed that these actions show very little respect for other people’s privacy. “We are in 2020; let’s show respect for people’s privacy,” she said.

In most cases, it is hard to identify who was responsible for hacking the account to get the information. Victims have said this themselves, after reporting that their Facebook, Messenger, email and other accounts had been hacked.

Maybe this is why jobs for Whatsapp accounts or Telegram profiles is growing, as well as for some messaging services that are world-renowned for their security algorithms. Telegram is a private chat service with a self-destruction feature for messages, notifying users if anybody screen captures their text, and offers end-to-end encryption.

However, not using social media responsibly doesn’t excuse the crime of invading somebody’s privacy.

Illegal, but without the opportunity to sue

Personal data protection and ensuring people’s privacy in an increasingly digital space, continues to be a pending issue in Cuba, even when some action has been taken.

The lack of specific regulations and the presence of an administrative view in the few that do, put the Caribbean country in need of a legal framework which covers, with greater precision and covering all forms of violations, both data protection as well as user’s privacy on their digital spaces.

Constitutional and legal references are limited and are geared towards protecting the state and government, and not to protect citizens’ personal information.

According to Article 48 of the new Constitution, passed in 2019 by a referendum, “everyone has the right to have their personal and family’s privacy respected, as well as their own image and voice, honor and personal identity.” On the other hand, Article 41 stipulates that the “Cuban State recognizes guarantees every person the non-renounceable, indivisible, universal and interdependent enjoyment and exercise of human rights, in keeping with the principles of progressiveness, equality and non-discrimination.”

In the same vein, Article 46 stipulates that “All citizens have the right to life, physical and moral integrity, justice, security, peace, health, education, culture, recreation, sports, and to their holistic development.”

So, on the whole, hacks are unconstitutional and violate three of the Constitution’s articles.

Since the imposing of Decree 370 in 2018, on the “Computerization of Cuban Society” it penalizes the “dissemination of information, via public data sharing networks, which goes against social interest, morale and people’s decency and integrity.” The fine for punishment can be a 3000 peso fine ($120 USD) for an individual, and in the case of it being a legal entity, it can be up to 10,000 Cuban pesos.

However, recent cases show that this legal regulation has been implemented more for administrative and political purposes, to limit posts by activists and independent journalists against the government.

On the other hand, as cybercrimes linked to privacy violations aren’t stipulated in the Penal Code (1987), everything is left to the discretionary interpretation and application of existing laws and according to concrete facts.

For example, some lawyers have advised applying Article 303 of the Penal Code, which punishes indecent assault as anyone who “offends, produces or circulates posts, screen captures, movie tapes, recordings, photos or any other object that is obscene, that tends to pervert or degrade decent behavior.”

However, this annex is very limited and ambiguous in nature. Add to this the little experience of experts and police staff to trace back cybercrimes; and of lawyers in taking these kinds of cases to trial, including those which might involve suing the media platform that publishes this kind of hacked information.


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