Activists Defeat Mass Surveillance in Paraguay

EspañolA controversial surveillance bill has failed to cut the mustard in Paraguay, in a coup for civil-liberties advocates. Going down in the Paraguayan Senate on May 4, the bill sought to force the country’s telephone and internet service providers to collect and store their clients’ traffic information for 12 months.

The massive data-retention bill — dubbed “Pyrawebs” by activists, after the complex network of informers the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989) deployed across the country — had the backing of the Prosecutors’ Office, the Ministry of the Interior, and the National Police.

It sought to intercept and collect information known as metadata from all devices connected to the internet in Paraguay: IP addresses, GPS locations, websites viewed, and the duration, origin, and destination of calls or messages.

In March, the Chamber of Deputies unanimously voted against the bill authored by the Senate after intense pressure from civil society. On Thursday, however, senators could have overruled the rejection with least 23 votes (simple majority), but proponents failed to secure enough support from colleagues.

“#Pyrawebs is shelved! Another victory against mass surveillance. Now going for more!”

During the session, senator and former prosecutor Arnaldo Giuzzio of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) defended his bill, on the basis that at present the Prosecutors’ Office cannot track down those who commit crimes online.

Giuzzio assured that hundreds of child-pornography cases remain unsolved in Paraguay, because internet providers are not obliged by law to keep enough data about their clients. He claimed that the inviolability of private communications guaranteed by the Paraguayan Constitution would not be breached, since no actual content would be stored, just the metadata, which could only be turned in to authorities with a court order.

However, critical legislators pointed out that Paraguay’s weak institutions and constant violations of the rule of law call into question how secure the sensitive data on millions of citizens could really be.

Emilia Alfaro, a senator from the Authentic Liberal Radical Party (PLRA), said “this law puts journalism in danger, compromising the secrecy of sources.”

Prior to the vote, activists against Pyrawebs led by digital-rights NGO Tedic launched a campaign and appeared in several local media outlets. They warned that metadata can reveal a great deal about someone’s conduct and preferences, thus violating constitutional precepts.

Maricarme Sequera, head of Tedic, told local newspaper Hoy of abuses in other countries with stronger institutions and where similar data collection systems were implemented. That includes the United States, Germany, and Ireland.

The local campaign garnered the support of over 60 international organizations that advocate for free speech on the internet, such as Amnesty International and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

With only nine votes from Paraguayan senators, the bill was finally rejected and cannot be resurrected until the next congressional term in 2016.


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