Venezuela’s Internet Crackdown Escalates into Regional Blackout

from For the last month, Venezuela has been caught up in widespread
protests against its government. The Maduro administration has responded
by cracking down on what it claims as being foreign interference
As that social unrest has escalated, the state’s censorship has
widened: from the removal of television stations from cable networks, to
the targeted blocking of social networking services, and the
announcement of new government powers to censor and monitor online. Last
night, EFF received reports from Venezuelans of the shutdown of the
state Internet provider in San Cristóbal, a regional capital in the west
of the country.

The censorship began early last week when the authorities removed a Columbian news network,
NTN24, from Venezuelan cable, and simultaneously published a reminder
that TV stations could be in violation of a law that forbids the
incitement or promotion of “hatred”, or “foment citizens’ anxiety or
alter public order.”

RELATED: Venezuela expels 3 US consular officials

Venezuelan Internet users on a variety of ISPs lost connectivity last
Thursday to an IP address owned by the content delivery network,
Edgecast. That address provided access to, among other services, Twitter’s images at A separate block prevented Venezuelans from reaching the text hosting site, Pastebin.

No official explanation for the loss of access to these general
purpose communication platforms was given by either the government or
the ISPs (the country’s largest ISP, CANTV,
is government-owned). Twitter later reconfigured their services to
point to another IP in response to Venezuelan complaints, bypassing the
block. Twitter also communicated to users in Venezuela how to use Twitter using SMS, in anticipation of further Internet interruptions.

William Castillo, the director of CONATEL,
the country’s media regulator, later claimed that Internet censorship
was necessary to fight off online attacks. He said that his organization
had blocked several links “where public sites were being attacked.”

Last week also saw the Venezuelan government prepare more systematic monitoring and blocking online. The country’s official gazette published last Thursday the details of a new government institution,
CESPPA (“The Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the
Country”). Among its broad powers, CESPPA can unilaterally classify and
censor any information it sees as a threat to national security. Its
structure includes two new Directorates: the Directorate of Information
and Technology Studies, which will be in charge of “processing and
analyzing information from the web”; and the Directorate for Social
Research, intended to “neutralize and defeat destabilization plans
against the nation”. The Center will also provide for a network of
situation rooms to be placed in all public institutions (the state ISP,
CANTV, is defined as a public institution).

When first announced in October, CESPPA was criticized
for being an unconstitutional attack on press freedom. With its new
details revealed, it’s clear that it will also have a wide mandate to
monitor and control all online communications in the defence of the

Even before CESPPA can flex its new powers, however, the Venezuelan
government appears to have taken the most drastic step yet against its
citizens’ free expression online. Starting late Tuesday night, reports
reached EFF of the shutdown of CANTV’s Internet access in areas of San
Cristóbal, the capital of the state of Táchira,
and one center of the protests. Venezuelan technologists have been
organizing online to spread information about bypassing censorship and
restoring connectivity via the Twitter account @accesolibreve.

The Venezuelan authorities may claim their interference in Internet
communication is an attempt to “defeat destabilization,” but the results
have so far led in the opposite direction. With shifting excuses for
increasingly heavy-handed Internet controls, the government is
undermining its own legitimacy abroad and among its own citizens. The
censorship and blackouts must end.

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