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Does Peru have Internet Freedom?

[All links lead to Spanish-language pages, except where otherwise noted.]

It is increasingly common to hear that a particular country is considering or actually enacting some type of law that affects Internet freedom. Peru is not immune to this. A few months ago, the country's Cybercrime Law (Ley de Delitos informáticos [en] or Ley Beingolea) sparked concern and debate over the possibility that it posed a threat to Internet privacy and freedom of expression.

More recently, another controversy has arisen over #SOPAcriolla, an attempt to gather input geared towards establishing copyright regulation and ISP (Internet Service Provider) responsibility that ended up instead focusing attention on Internet freedom in Peru and the potential threats against it.

Why is this happening? There are many reasons, ranging from corporations with a vested interest in intellectual property [en] putting pressure on other institutions and government bodies to combat Internet piracy to those same governments seeking [en] to fight perceived opposition and dissidence by sometimes cloaking it in national security measures—all the while telecommunication companies are themselves restricting user access in order to reap maximum economic benefits.

Picture courtesy of Daniela Goulart, asleeponasunbeam on Flickr, Creative Commons-licensed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The idea that “the web is a fundamental human right” [en - all links in paragraph] and the notion of net neutrality , including such basic tenets as freedom of speech and the right to privacy, are affected by proposed North American legislation such as SOPAPIPA, the free-trade agreements and other pacts (ACTA, TPP) between various countries.

Even though it would appear that Peru's social networks are actively discussing the question of Internet freedom, in reality there is little large-scale awareness or interest. And why should there be? Because it affects us all, especially considering how much we pay for our home and mobile Internet access and how little we receive in return.

A while ago, Internet blogger Chillinfart wrote about telecommunications companies in Peru and their rates:

siempre hablé de lo perjudicial que son las limitaciones de tráfico que el oligopolio en telecomunicaciones busca imponer (sea ClaroMovistarNextel o Velatel, […] Por el otro lado, es importante entender lo vital que es la tarifa plana en el Perú, donde pese al despegue del uso de internet mediante los cibercafés (o cabinas como decimos acá) y algunos logros a nivel local, la penetración de internet en el Perú sigue siendo bajísima y donde las limitaciones de tráfico terminarán deprimiendo aún más los intentos por acceder a la información.

I have always pointed out the detrimental nature of restrictions on traffic, which the telecommunications oligopoly tries to impose, be it Claro, Movistar, Nextel or Velatel, [...] On the other hand, it is important to understand how vital the flat rate is in Peru. Despite the increase in Internet use through cybercafés and other gains made locally, Internet penetration in Peru is still very low, and restrictions on traffic will only end up undermining further attempts to access information.

He added:

¿En qué afecta a los peruanos medidas como las limitaciones de tráfico? Lo primero es lo más obvio, nuestro bolsillo, al encarecer el acceso a internet de la misma forma que en los tiempos de los módem analógicos (costos por conexión y llamada o consumo). Segundo, permite que los operadores pongan trampas para entorpecer el acceso a ciertos servicios (ej. Redes p2p, páginas de multimedios, servicios VoIP como Skype), crear saturaciones artificiales para excusarse cuando las cosas andan mal o hasta vender información sobre la actividad de sus clientes a terceros.

How are Peruvians affected by measures to limit traffic? The most obvious way is hitting us in our pocketbooks, by making Internet access costlier in the same way as when analog modems were billed by connection, call frequency and consumption. Second, restrictions allow operators to deceive users by slowing access to certain services (e.g., P2P networks, multimedia pages, and voIPs such as Skype), by generating artificial saturation to divert attention when things are not working properly, or even by selling user activity to third parties.

So we see that despite the significant digital divide in Peru, the telecommunications companies continue to place hurdles in the way of Internet access. Moreover, they often abuse their power and block particular sites for reasons not clearly explained (the most recent case involved Bitly, a URL shortening and bookmarking service, that was mysteriously inaccessible in Peru for several days).

In this regard, journalist José Soriano, an Internet pioneer in Peru, outlined the following issue on Facebook:

Si los DNS y los servidores esta en manos privadas, que no tienen ningún control institucional ¿Cuanto aumenta la vulnerabilidad del Internet del Perú? ¿No será tiempo de poner genuinamente en manos de la sociedad civil un Comité Peruano de Gestión de Internet, con la participación del Estado y las empresas proveedoras con representantes de usuarios y ONG´s?

If the DNS and the servers are in private hands, with no institutional oversight, does this not increase the vulnerability of the Internet in Peru? Is it not time to put a Peruvian Internet Management Committee in the hands of civil society, through joint participation of the state and commercial providers with representation by users and NGOs?

Looking at it another way, just a few months ago, the Congress of Peru passed a law to promote broadband and establish a national fiber optic backbone (Ley de Promoción de la Banda Ancha y Construcción de la Red Dorsal Nacional de Fibra Óptica) without meaningful public debate. And while one section of the law recognizes net neutrality, another section increases regulation beyond what already exists. Lawyer Miguel Morachimo explains in Blawyer:

la nueva Ley de Banda Ancha intenta regular un tema que ya está regulado por OSIPTEL hace siete años. Pero incluso, se trata de una regulación mucho más restrictiva que la que tenemos vigente. (Establece bloqueos de aplicaciones por parte de los operadores “a solicitud expresa del abonado o usuario y/o algunos casos excepcionales por motivos de seguridad” Art.7) […] Resulta una verdadera lástima que, mientras en otros países se llevaron a cabo procesos de consulta pública y se realizaron serias investigaciones de mercado, en Perú se haya vuelto a tocar legislativamente este tema sin mayor debate ni difusión.

The new broadband law aims at regulating a matter that has already been under the auspices of OSIPTEL for seven years. What's more, it entails regulation that is far more restrictive than what is currently in effect. (It enables operators to block applications at the “request of the subscriber or user and, in exceptional cases, for security reasons” Art. 7) [...] It is a great pity that while other countries carried out public consultation and undertake serious market research, in Peru, we have gone back to legislatively addressing this topic without significant debate or transparency.

Again José Soriano argued on Facebook that the Internet laws recently being considered in Peru would at best only serve to confuse the issue, as evidenced by prior attempts:

La legislación nacional ya es abundante y suficiente, cualquier intento de adicionar una ley es para restringir los derechos ciudadanos. […] Internet ha crecido gracias a su autoregulación y libre tránsito de la información sin rompimiento de la neutralidad de la red. Cualquier intento de regulación o legislación es en sí mismo un atentado a las libertades públicas, ya que los usuarios de todas maneras se rigen por las leyes civiles y penales pre-existentes, con procedimientos, reglamento, y autoridades de aplicación y policía.

There is ample and sufficient national legislation; any additional law would only restrict the right of citizens. [...] The Internet has grown thanks to self-regulation and the free flow of information without violating net neutrality. Any attempt at regulating or legislating it is itself an assault on civil liberties, as users must already comply, in any event, with pre-existing criminal and civil laws, due process and regulation as well as enforcement and policing authorities.

Meanwhile the press would appear to be magnifying instances of cyber crimes in order to promote an environment in which restrictive Internet laws could be justified. At the same time, instances such as the signing of the free trade agreement with the European Union are not given due diligence or worse still, articles critical of such treaties simply ”disappear“.

As we can see, the notion of Internet freedom is as technical as it is legal, which may explain why so few people pay attention to or even understand what is at stake. Even lawmakers fall into this category. As Miguel Morachimo wrote recently:

Al igual que muchos países en América Latina y otras regiones, Perú es un estado cuyos representantes políticos no están familiarizados con Internet y tecnologías en general. Nuestras políticas nacionales al respecto siguen siendo directrices genéricas que no sirven de guía para soluciones innovadoras y leyes inteligentes. A diferencia de otros asuntos de interés público, como la violencia política o la discriminación, existen pocas voces que contribuyen al debate público sobre política de Internet en el Perú desde la perspectiva de la sociedad civil. Como resultado de este vacío, los intereses de los usuarios no se ven representados en el Congreso cuando se proponen proyectos de ley que afectan a nuestros derechos.

Just like so many countries in Latin America and elsewhere, Peru's political representatives are not well versed in the Internet or technology in general. Our public policy in this regard tends to follow generic guidelines that do not lead to innovative solutions and intelligent legislation. Compared with other matters of public interest in Peru, such as political violence or discrimination, few voices are heard in the public debate about Internet policy from the perspective of a civil society. As a result of this vacuum, when a legislative bill that affects all our rights is put before Congress, the interests of Internet users are not represented.

We recently spoke to Miguel Morachimo about this issue:


Post originally published in Juan Arellano's personal blog.
The video in this post was transcribed and subtitled by Irene Gutierrez Moncayo and Veronica Robertson

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