In a complex climate of great tension, the use of information technologies is being legislated in Cuba.
HAVANA TIMES – New regulations for telecommunications, information and social communications technologies attempt to establish some order in a growing universe in this country, which will continue to impact the national economy, society and citizens’ private lives.
In addition to state-controlled TV clarifying the objectives of these laws – Decree-Law 35, Decree-Law 41 and their complementary regulations -, the Cuban authorities also made a statement on August 26th, to reinforce the fact that they respond to postulates in the Constitution, approved in 2019.
On the TV show Mesa Redonda, Ernesto Rodriguez, vice-minister of Communications on this Carribean island, stated that the Cuban Constitution touches on issues linked to those that Decree-Law 35 and its related documents deal with, in no less than 20 of its articles.
He also pointed out that this superior law is founded upon the principles of the World Summit on the Information Society, that “advocated to prevent the use of information resources and technologies for criminal and terrorist purposes, or against international stability and security.”
In the face of different interpretations of Decree-Law 35, publised in the August 17th edition of the Cuban Republic’s Official Gazette, Rodriguez invited people to analyze the articles, adopting a global view of the issue, which has defended rights from the beginning.
In this regard, lawyer Rolando Perez insisted that “the decree-law is relevant and totally necessary, so we are asking people to read it through slowly and to interpret the lawmaker’s spirit in its words.
Other statements also included that from Wilfredo Lopez Rodriguez, director of Regulations from the ministry of Communications, who stated that nothing stipulated in this law curtails freedom of speech. People can have their political opinion and express it, they just need to avoid offensive, aggressive language or hate speech, he said.
Points put forth by the government about Decree-Law 35
The following are some of this decree-law’s objectives:
– contribute to using telecommunications services as an instrument to defend the Revolution;
– promote the use of telecommunications to contribute to the political, economic and social development of the country, as well as gradually ensuring these networks and services’ are reliable, stable and secure.
– meeting the general needs of the State and Government and those related to national security and defense, internal order and civil defense, in matters of telecommunications / ICT and the use of the radioelectric spectrum.
– promoting the harmonious and orderly progress of networks and telecommunications / ICT services in the country’s informatization process.
– defending the interests of citizens and ensuring access to services and constitutional rights; in particular the principle of equality, privacy and secrecy in communications.
– promoting and facilitating the use of telecommunications and information and communications technologies, and the radioelectric spectrum to improve the population’s living conditions.
– increase cybersecurity to protect the use of the abovementioned services and the radioelectric spectrum and ensure that they don’t attack national security or defense, interior order or that they are used in actions that are geared towards causing harm or damages to third parties.
On the other hand, Cuban authorities say that Decree-Law 35 includes, along with technical and regulatory points, laws necessary for coexistence in cyberspace. According to the vice-minister of Telecommunications, it is a matter “of seeking a coherent order in the virtual space, just like humanity has built in real life.”
Controversy on social media
Since before its publication in the Cuban Republic’s Official Gazette, the law stirred controversy in social media groups, in regard to its relevance, rights and duties.
With a total of 129 articles, most of the attention is essentially focused on two subsections in article 15, e): “stop the use of T/ICT services to attack Security, the country’s Public Order, to spread fake reports or news, or in actions that target damages or loss to third parties and as a means to commit illegal activities.
Also f): “not to use the service to carry out actions or transmit information that is offensive or harmful to human dignity; or discriminatory content; that leads to harassment; that affects a person’s or family’s intimacy; a person’s identity, wellbeing and honor; collective security and overall wellbeing, public morality and respect for public order”
While the authorities are classifying the law as the highest ranking that has been passed in Cuba about information technologies, communications and telecommunications, some international media platforms have pointed out that on social media it is baptized as “a new gag law”, and said that it will serve to condemn those who criticize the government in the virtual space.
Looking at digital platforms, you can get a good idea of the range of unfavorable opinions and the widely used hashtag #NoalDecretoLey35.
However, these arguments leave out the positive aspects of the complementary laws, such as the inclusion of cyberbullying, grooming and credential theft via methods such as phishing, as well as other cyber crimes.
Here are some of the unfavorable opinions about the new law on social media.
– the law underpins citizens’ helplessness in the face of State actions and the State’s impunity when defining what can and cannot be published on digital platforms.
– the law grants legal validity to the authorities’ discretional use of user data, which casts aside privacy rights.
– access to WIFI services in certain places in the country is still impossible.
– demands for free speech and respect for opinions (whether they are a majority or minority) are not contemplated, nor is there any mention of how expensive these services are and poor connections.
Other opinions underline that economic actors need to be taken seriously, are able to put their businesses online and have support from applications for competitive sales and easy payment options, that include discounts and click and pay.
Some users also agree that remote working options need to be extended and controled more by institutions, so that the efficiency of this work translates into something other than an idea.
Others believe that the objective of Decree-Law 35 is distorted by those who use social media for subversion campaigns against the Cuban government.
With Decree-Law 41, the State Council terminated the Cuban Radio and Television Institute and created the Cuban Information and Social communications Institute, whose msision is to push and control social the State and government’s communication policies.
The new body that now fills the gap left behind by an institution that steered the social communication system, will be responsible for the material and economic insurance between institutional, media and community communications, of managing the country’s image and ensuring a national identity.
Just like every other issue of Cuban life, this change was also debated on social media. Mildred Obourke, a journalist who worked for decades at a radio station in Havana, posted on their Facebook page: “it’s become reality today, but it’s an age-old journalists’ demand and was expressed in every space possible.”
Meanwhile, she believes that the “challenge is to prevent old and inefficient practices from holding back the new body, so that changing its name, function and objectives is in keeping with the times and what they call for.”