A leaked internal memo of the multinational ISP Telefonica in Ecuador indicates that the Association of Internet Providers of Ecuador (AEPROVI) was in cahoots with the Ecuadorian government to block their user access to certain websites. The Associated Whistleblowing Press in partnership with the Ecuadorian whistleblowing platform, Ecuador Transparente, published the memo together.
Details in the memo show that on March 28, 2014, around 7:20 pm and 7:53 pm, a technician received reports of users who were unable to access Google and YouTube websites. The Telefonica staff verified the issues and reported them to Telefonica’s Network Operations Center (NOC). NOC then confirmed that the mentioned sites were not accessible and said it was because of the AEPROVI “blocking access to certain Internet websites by request of the National Government.” The memo also shows that since many people were affected by the blockade, AEPROVI then rolled back the block which helped remedy the situation.
The memo also shows that the Ecuadorian government possesses the power to order domestic Internet service providers to block certain websites and has exercised it before. This is in line with the previous claims of governed censorship. The Ecuadorian government has also used foreign firms to give copyright takedowns to remove dozens and dozens of online content that it does not approve of.
WHO IS AEPROVI?
AEPROVI is an Ecuadorian association that comprises of most of the Internet service providers which are present in the country. Its members include the Telefonica (Movistar Ecuador), and they control 95 percent of the country’s Internet traffic. The association handles critical Internet infrastructure including the NAP Ecuador, responsible for running the two major Internet exchange points(IXPs). IXPs bring together information from many ISPs into one location. Therefore, they are an easy way to censor the Internet in one localized area. An IXP is also the best location to inject incorrect DNS responses leading customers to not accessing the correct websites or telling them the domain does not exist.
The day the sites were censored, President Rafael Correa’s Twitter account was hacked, and the Director of the National Secretariat of Intelligence, Rommy Vallejo’s private emails were posted online.
Whether one incident was inspired the other is still too soon to know. The Telefonica memo, however, suggests the blocking of Google might have been collateral damage as they attempted to block other websites.
The Association Whistleblowing Press and the Ecuador Transparente say the public has a right to know what, why and who the government is censoring on the internet and which law permits them to. The two whistleblower agencies say the public still does not know which websites were blocked.
Hace algunas horas mi twitter fue hackeado, y aprovecharon para enviar falsos tw con las infamias de siempre.
Demoré en aclararlo porque…
— Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) March 28, 2014
It is also unclear how many times this has happened and which government agencies have the power to exercise an order like that. Only a unilateral decree of a State of Emergency allows the president, under vague conditions to order content block without oversight by any independent or impartial court. Since there was no Emergency Decree was done, it seems the block was illegal.