Cuba Lays Out Rules Governing Surveillance, Informants 1

FILE – In this Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, center, visits with residents after arriving in Caimanera, Cuba. A new decree approved by Diaz-Canel Oct. 8 and made public Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, says prosecutors can approve eavesdropping and surveillance of any form of communication, without consulting a judge as required in many other Latin American countries. ISMAEL FRANCISCO, FILE AP PHOTO

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press

Cuba has publicly laid out the rules governing the extensive, longstanding surveillance and undercover investigation of the island’s 11 million people.

A new decree approved by President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Oct. 8 and made public this week says prosecutors can approve eavesdropping and surveillance of any form of communication, without consulting a judge as required in many other Latin American countries. The law also creates official legal roles for informants, undercover investigators and sting operations.

The decree is intended to “raise the effectiveness of the prevention of and fight against crime,” according to the declaration in Cuba’s register of new laws and regulations.

The country’s powerful intelligence and security agencies have for decades maintained widespread surveillance of Cuban society through eavesdropping of all types and networks of informants and undercover agents, but their role has never been so publicly codified.

The decree describes a variety of roles: agents of the Interior Ministry authorized to carry out undercover investigations, cooperating witnesses who provide information in exchange for lenient treatment and sting operations in which illegal goods are allowed to move under police surveillance.

The law allows interception of telephone calls, direct recording of voices, shadowing and video recording of suspects and covert access to computer systems.

Unlike Cuba, many countries including Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Chile and Bolivia require a judge to approve surveillance operations.

Under A Watchful Eye: Cyber Surveillance in Cuba 1

In Cuba the possibility of state surveillance is never far away. (Photo: IWPR)

Public access to the internet has increased, but the state remains vigilant.
By Yoe Suárez, Institute For War & Peace Reporting

Álvaro felt like a spy during his four years working as a network administrator at the state news agency Prensa Latina (PL).

“Part of my work was maintaining computers,” he explained. “But sometimes my boss ordered me to monitor what a reporter or worker was Googling or looking at.”

Although this was not among the duties that he had signed up for when he joined the country’s most important news agency, Álvaro never questioned his superior’s orders.

“Then, I’d see the people that I’d been monitoring in the lunchroom or on the street and I felt terrible,” he said. “I tried to act naturally but I couldn’t stop thinking about the personal things I knew about them.”

In an office behind closed doors, Álvaro accessed other people’s computers, taking screenshots that he then filed. Sometimes he accessed private emails or instant messages during the screening process. The assignments even included monitoring the private communications of journalists about to travel outside Cuba as PL correspondents.

“It was a way of making sure that they wouldn’t abandon the ‘mission’ or make contact with inappropriate people abroad,” he said.

Ahead of trips abroad, reporters had to go through a verification process that included interviews with the heads of whatever political organizations they belonged to, references from the leaders of their Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, and a final verification from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). Once deemed trustworthy, the reporters still had to go through the final filter of cyber surveillance at their place of work.

“In political and social organisations, people are being constantly evaluating others and it’s taken into account for anything, from getting a university position to deciding if you can be trusted for a job,” said Jesús Adonis Martínez, the agency’s correspondent in Caracas for two years. “In a totalitarian country everyone’s tracks are filed away.”

“There is even more surveillance for journalists who have collaborated with foreign or independent media,” added Álvaro, who asked to remain anonymous even though he no longer works for the agency.

“What they made me do was wrong,” he concluded.

Article continues here: Cyber-spying