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Cuba19 October 2006

Going online in Cuba - Internet under surveillance

Reporters Without Borders today publishes a report entitled "Going online in Cuba - Internet under surveillance" with the results of tests carried out on the island in August. It includes a survey of the Internet control methods used by the authorities and the personal account of a French journalist who spent several weeks there this summer.

Extract:

(JPEG) "With less than 2 per cent of the population online, Cuba is one of the world’s most backward countries as regards Internet usage. The worst off by far in Latin America and with a thirteenth of Costa Rica’s usage, it is down there with Uganda or Sri Lanka. This is quite surprising in a country that boasts one of the highest levels of education in the world. The authorities blame this disastrous situation on the US trade embargo, which supposedly prevents them from getting the equipment they need for Internet development. In particular, they say they are unable to use underwater fibre optic cable to connect to the Internet outside Cuba and are therefore reduced to using costly and less effective satellite links.

This may indeed explain the slowness of the Cuban Internet and the endless lines outside Internet cafes. But in no way does it justify the system of control and surveillance that has been put in place by the authorities. In a country where the media are under the government’s thumb, preventing independent reports and information from circulating online has naturally become a priority.

An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders revealed that the Cuban government uses several mechanisms to ensure that the Internet is not used in a “counter-revolutionary” fashion. Firstly, the government has more or less banned private Internet connections. To visit websites or check their e-mail, Cubans have to use public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and “Youth computing centers” where it is easier to monitor their activity. Then, the Cuban police has installed software on all computers in Internet cafes and big hotels that triggers an alert message when “subversive” key-words are noticed.

The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for its political opponents and independent journalists, for whom reaching news media abroad is an ordeal. The government also counts on self-censorship. In Cuba, you can get a 20-year prison sentence for writing a few “counter-revolutionary” articles for foreign websites, and a five-year one just for connecting with the Internet in an illegal manner. Few people dare to defy the state censorship and take such a risk."

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