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Venezuela: Draft Law Would Criminalize Online Protest, Remove Checks on Surveillance

A police officer watches protesters in Maracaibo, Venezuela 2014. Photo by María Alejandra Mora via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A police officer watches protesters in Maracaibo, Venezuela 2014. Photo by María Alejandra Mora via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Venezuela's socialist party proposed an amendment to the country's Law on Organized Crime last week that would codify “cyber terrorism” as a crime. Deputy Eduardo Gómez Sigala, who opposes the bill, says it could be used to “intimidate and prevent citizens [from] express[ing] themselves through social networks.”

The draft was distributed on Nov. 19 but deliberations on the amendment have since been postponed.

Gómez Sigala told media outlets that under the new policy, people who use social networks or other electronic media to “promote or attack the constitutional order” or “disrupt public peace” could face between one and five years in prison.

Protests that peaked last February have since continued across the country, as have the trends of inflation, violent crime, and corruption that triggered demonstrations. The bill comes on the heels of numerous arrests of citizens using social media to organize protests and criticize government activities.

Article 72 of the text reads:

Attempt against public disorder [sic].
Whoever by use of mass media, electronic, telephone, social networking, advertising [or] audiovisual material originates, disseminates, promotes or exalts individual behaviors or activities of structured groups seeking to undermine constitutional order or seriously disturb public peace or the security and defense of the nation, or [to attempt] one or more terrorist acts, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to five years.

On Twitter the next day, Venezuelans used the #ciberterrorismo (#cyberterrorism) hashtag to gather information and express their opinions on the reform. Christopher Di Marco, an educator and expert in computing, tweeted:

Rights, it was nice knowing you. We are all enemies of the State until proven otherwise. #Cyberterrorism

The image, which contains an article quoted by Di Marco from the draft of the bill, highlights the issue of “preventive interception.” It reads:

The Prosecution, through the criminal investigation bodies, may intercept documents, correspondence and wired or wireless communications from presumed terrorists or members of armed bands, terrorist organisations, structured groups or organisations, without court oversight, with a maximum of seven days, which content will be transcribed and added to the investigation, keeping the original sources of recording, ensuring its inalterability and subsequent identification. Besides, it may obtain intervened information between different government agencies.

Users also contested the vague language of the proposal, particularly terms such as “public peace” that could be subject to a broad range of interpretations by authorities. Journalist and cyberactivist Luis Carlos Díaz wrote:

The proposal not only invents the crime of #cyberterrorism from social networks. It also invented the “public peace”.

Along with the “preventive interception” provision, the draft also introduces concepts of “preventive home search”, “preventive detention”, and “preventive tracking”, all of which would give prosecutors the power to order these procedures without a court order.

There is little information on when the draft will be discussed at the National Assembly. But with the backing of the socialist party, which holds 99 out of 151 seats, its approval will be all but guaranteed.

  • francisco

    Pueblo Venezolano revolucionario patriota, es donde se encuentra la sabidurías nos encontramos con plena satisfacción por nuestra aprobación de leyes patriotas toda llena de justicia porque la prueba que lo justifica son los chillidos rateros de la putrefacta oposición el cáncer que se encuentra en nuestra patria

    • chillinfart

      La propaganda no se combate con censura, sino desenmascaràndola. Ahì estàn mal y lo triste del caso es que la tienen fàcil viendo como se portan los leopoldistas.

      Solo consiguen que conductas peores como la peruana (que son como ellos) se justifiquen

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