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Cuba14 January 2004

The government plans to track down unauthorised Internet-users

Reporters Without Borders has protested vigorously against a plan by the Cuban authorities to crack down on unauthorised Internet-users by placing a total ban on use of the regular telephone network to get online. They have called on Etecsa, Cuba’s sole telecoms operator "to deploy every technical means to detect and block Internet access" to unauthorised users. Since Internet use in Cuba is banned for the majority of the population, Cubans are forced to use illegal connections.

"We are extremely worried by this new decree which is aimed at tracking down ’informaticos’, Cubans who managed to get Internet access despite an official ban," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of the international press freedom organisation. "The Internet is one of the few means of getting around the ever present censorship of news and information in this country,"he said. "Since they are unable to monitor the Internet as easily as the newspapers, the government has simply chosen to ban access to the Internet for almost the entire population. Very few countries go as far as this to control the Net," he added.

From 24 January, it will officially forbidden to use the regular telephone network, billed in pesos, to connect to the Internet, except for those specifically allowed to do so by "the person in charge of a body or of a central administration organisation". The change will not affect foreign companies and organisations that use another network, billed in dollars, for Net access.

The decree in fact changes nothing for most ordinary Cubans in that a ban on Internet access is already in place for most of them. The chief objective is to remind them that only people with specific permission can use this media. Many "informaticos" used personal computers, bought on the black market, to connect to the Internet, by pirating normal telephone lines. Under the new law the authorities will track these people down with the help of the sole public provider Etecsa.

Cubans can still use cybercafés to get online, but at two euros for quarter of an hour, it is beyond the financial means of almost everyone.

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