New bill could undermine online expression
The Ecuadorian Parliament is currently discussing a draft bill on privacy and personal data which has been criticised by local and regional organisations for potentially restricting the freedoms of information and expression on the internet. The bill establishes the National Authority for the Protection of Personal Data and gives the authority the power to temporary or permanently block information, if it considers that a constitutional right could be affected by that information. Critics of the bill point out that its broad wording opens the door to some forms of censorship, for example blocking information in order to protect the honour of a public officer. Rights group Derechos Digitales communicated its concerns that the way the bill is formulated could allow the authority to block websites, blogs or other 'uncomfortable' online content.
In a separate development, earlier this year the Ecuadorian government began a competitive process to allocate 1,472 radio and television frequencies, equivalent to 65% of the entire radio spectrum of the country. According to the Regional Alliance for Free Expression and Information, this process has not been transparent enough, nor has it created opportunities for citizen participation. The Regional Alliance has encouraged the authorities to ensure that the tender adheres to the standards defined for these kinds of processes by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
As previously reported by the CIVICUS Monitor, in August Ecuador's Ministry of Education announced the dissolution of the National Union of Teachers (UNE), one of the biggest unions in the country. The decision was based on the union's alleged non-compliance with laws governing social organisations. Recently, a group of United Nations human rights experts condemned the decision and stated that people should enjoy the right to freedom of association enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ecuador ratified in March 1969. UN Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst highlighted the potential implications of the decision for civil society in general:
'With the effective dissolution of the UNE, the most important association of teachers in the country, we are concerned that teachers are deprived of a major tool to raise their voice and concerns, and it might have a chilling effect on civil society and human rights defenders in general.'