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Venezuelans have been protesting against the government for the past month. Particularly violent demonstrations have erupted over the past few days. It began as the Venezuelan government failed to protect the people against damage caused by their suffering economy. But a large part of the latest protests have been against the attacks on freedom of speech. The government has increased their censorship and shut down foreign TV and websites. They have also announced that they intend to more closely monitor users. But VPN Tools and SMS access are helping organized protests continue despite government crackdowns.
Protests against government censorship began with the creation of The Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Country (CESPPA). When CESSPA was made public in October 2013, activists objected on the grounds that the group allowed for violations of press freedoms, a constitutional right. Protesters began organizing to inform Internet users of the government’s moves. Information on how to circumvent blocks began spreading from Twitter account @accesolibreve, which translates to free access.
CESSPA was created to aid the government in executing their plans for harsher censorship. The group has the power to systematically monitor Internet users. It can also make decisions on what traffic will be blocked. Censorship will be carried out based on their assessment of the contents’ effect on national security. One division under CESPPA is in charge of categorizing Internet content. Another takes care of counteracting any access or traffic that they decide risks unsettling the current order. This includes what they defined as “plans against the nation”. All public institutions including CANTV will open situation rooms for CESPPA.
The Maduro administration has begun to implement the new censorship in recent weeks. They have regulations that prevent access to content that they consider dangerous. It is a move against what they deem to be the interference of foreign influences. This includes content that could encourage hatred or incite the disruption of public order. The government first removed the NTN24 news channel from Venezuela cable. Last week, Edgecast was blocked, preventing access to websites like pbs.twimg.com and services like Pastebin, a text hosting site.
The government has not released any statement regarding the targeting of these platforms. Local ISPs are likewise silent on the matter. But the latest crackdown is suspected to stem from the eruption of protests against censorship. The government’s latest response to protests included the shutdown of Internet access in areas of San Cristóbal. This Táchira state capital was identified as a hub for the recent protests. Government owned ISP CANTV serves the city.
Maintaining Access with Rerouting and VPN Tools
Twitter anticipates that more blocks are coming. The platform has circumvented the current blocks rerouting to a different IP. They have also released tutorials on accessing the content via SMS. Other Venezuelan users have resorted to VPN tools to maintain access. Keeping the door open to outside news and information hubs like Twitter is important to the protests. These tools have also helped them enter a number of sites that CONATEL has blocked. This Venezuelan media regulator explained that they are blocking access for Internet security. These sites are considered dangerous and so blocking them can prevent attacks. The Venezuelan government meantime maintains that censorship is an attempt to prevent the destabilization of public order. But the effects of their increased monitoring of Internet activities have been the opposite. Internet users in the country are doubling their efforts to fight back. More users are learning how to employ VPN tools to reroute their Internet traffic to maintain access to blocked content.