Big Brother Cameras Mandated for Ecuador’s Motels, Brothels

Nightclubs, bars, cabarets, motels, and other similar establishments in Ecuador must have surveillance systems in place by the end of March 2015.
Nightclubs, bars, cabarets, motels, and other similar establishments in Ecuador must have surveillance systems in place by the end of March 2015. (Comunicación Central)

EspañolEcuador’s Ministry of Interior has issued new regulations forcing businesses that cater to the local nightlife to install security cameras within their facilities. The measure, adopted January 30, stipulates that video surveillance systems must be in place by the end of March for business owners to receive operating licenses for nightclubs, bars, cabarets, and motels.

The policy requires surveillance cameras to be placed in “strategic public places that do not violate the privacy of citizens,” such as hallways, waiting rooms, entrances, or exits. The video footage must be archived for six months, and provided to authorities when required.

Moreover, the new rules require these businesses to employ one security guard for every 50 customers. Non-compliance may lead to the government’s permanent closure of the business.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Interior, the goal of the new policy is to “further strengthen citizen security and peaceful social coexistence” in the country.

Consuelo Castro, police intendant of the province of Guayas, has assured the public that the policy will not violate the privacy of those who visit these establishments, arguing that its main purpose will be to prevent violent or illegal acts.

“The videos will identify the presence of teenagers in the place and the entry of weapons, and it will facilitate the process of identifying those who commit a crime or offense,” said Castro.

However, Enrique Barreiro, a representative of the Association of Nightlife Establishment Owners, told local newspaper El Comercio that the new policy must be studied in detail, “because in many cases, customers feel that their privacy is being violated.”

Public Response

The encroachment of state surveillance in Ecuador’s public life is, however, nothing new. Since 2012, the government has mandated over 55,000 video cameras be placed in local taxis and buses, over 2,000 on public streets and roads, and over 1,400 in the nation’s schools.

“Cameras in schools, now cameras in motels. What’s next? The state is watching you #Ecuador.”

Nonetheless, the latest provision that now covers public nightlife has been met with strong rejection among Ecuador’s social-media users. In between jokes and complaints, multiple Twitter users have claimed the Ecuadorian state aims to further monitor the activity of its citizens.

“Smile, we’re taxing you — IRS.
Smile, we’re filming you — Ecstasy Motels.”

“#BigBrotherIsWatchingYou Voyeurism as state policy in Ecuador.”

“Fingerprint scanners in supermarkets in Venezuela, cameras in schools, bars, and motels in Ecuador … And they are not accountable for their corruption.”

Security versus Privacy

Andrés Delgado, founder of Radical Openness (Apertura Radical), and member of the group #FreeInternet (#InternetLibre), is an adamant opponent of the government’s latest surveillance measure. He told the PanAm Post that he believes placing cameras in nightclubs, bars, and other similar establishments is a clear violation of personal privacy.

“The problem is not, as some authorities think, that we believe cameras will be placed in the bedrooms or bathrooms of these places. The record of activities in public areas — i.e. who, when, where, and with whom someone was — represents an invasion of privacy, since all this data can be associated to the type of activity that occurs at these places, even if it did not necessarily occur.”

When asked about the government justification for the new regulation, Delgado said he does not believe the public is willing to sacrifice freedom for security.

“The state can lock me and my family up inside four concrete walls, guarantee us adequate food and medical care as well when needed, but the reason it sounds so absurd is that obviously nobody would be willing to sacrifice their freedom in exchange for ‘public safety’ or ‘peaceful coexistence,'” he argues.

“Surveillance cameras are an equally aggressive measure, but less obvious. The state has the obligation to guarantee the right to security, but also to respect our right to privacy. Several International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance have already been established, and in this case, these clearly are not being respected,” Delgado added.

“Cameras ‘strictly in the hallways’ of motels and cabarets. Is it that innocent?”

Furthermore, he explained that there have been other attempts to obtain private information about citizens through legislation in the country. Delgado recalled that about a year ago, the government attempted to amend the Penal Code in order to collect all internet traffic data in the country, as well as the metadata associated with these communications.

The law also tried to force the owners of internet cafes to record the activity of their users, but the National Assembly later rejected the proposal on the grounds that it violated human rights. More recently, a second attempt to maintain access and call logs was made through the Telecommunications Act, but President Rafael Correa vetoed the legislation.

Delgado notes that there are important parallels between the legislation that was ultimately rejected either by the president or the National Assembly and the current surveillance regulations established by the Ministry of Interior. “In both cases, we’re talking about data collection by a third party [stored] in databases that are vulnerable to attacks,” he said, arguing that if previous attempts have been rejected, this latest measure should likewise not be allowed.

Finally, Delgado said that although Ecuador’s National Intelligence Secretariat (SENAIN) is not as powerful as the US National Security Agency (NSA) or Britain’s GCHQ, “it has an annual budget of US$58 million, and has software capable of spying on social networks, smartphones, tablets, and computers, as well as facial and voice recognition.”

“What mechanisms exist for citizens to ensure proper procedures are in place? That’s a question I’d like the authorities to answer. Democracy should not be a matter of faith.”

Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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