(www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org) May 19 2004 CUBA TIGHTENS ACCESS TO INTERNET, E-MAIL, TELEPHONES In a new effort to limit its citizens' contact with the outside world, the Cuban government is quietly introducing a new Information Security Law to centralize and restrict access to the World Wide Web, e-mail and telephone usage. The new law is being supervised by the Ministry of the Interior, the parent organization of the secret police. In recent weeks, according to reporter Wilfredo Cancio Isla ("Cuba Restricts Telephones and the Internet," Nuevo Herald, May 16), the regime has informed government-owned enterprises of the new regulation designed to limit access to the Internet and to prevent "indiscriminate use of e-mail." A letter issued by the government-owned telephone service to its subscribers, obtained by the Nuevo Herald, states that by June 30 "commercial activities related to Internet access services will be halted" in order to transfer all Internet accounts to a new, centralized provider named ENET. The new regulation also bans access within Cuba to Internet-based "chatrooms" and popular free e-mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo. Only a small percentage of the population is currently permitted to legally access the Internet on Cuba's domestic telephone service, which is paid for in Cuban pesos, but until now clandestine Web surfers have evaded this restriction by purchasing passwords on the black market. The new law, however, will try to block illegal Net surfers by limiting Internet dial-up connections to telephone subscribers who pay their bills in U.S. dollars, to which few Cubans have access. Although the new law will not go into effect until June 30, the limited number of Cubans now authorized to surf the Net are already being subjected to tightened scrutiny. Speaking under a promise of anonymity, a university professor - one of the few Cuban groups permitted to have legal Internet accounts - told the Nuevo Herald that "the surveillance [of Internet usage] is fierce, and occasional access to Google has been converted into a luxury." In early 2004 the regime tried to enact a similar crackdown on Internet usage, citing a need to protect its citizens from what it termed the harmful effects of illegal Web surfing, computer viruses and the websites of foreign-based Satanic cults. But the government soon backed down from implementing the law in the face of negative publicity from abroad, including a rebuke by the International Federation of Library Associations. By June 30, 2004, however, the government plans to finalize the new Information Security Law restricting access to the World Wide Web, e-mail and telephone usage. Oscar Viciedo, a computer specialist who left the island in 1992, told the Nuevo Herald that the Cuban government often deplores the "digital divide" depriving Third World nations of the benefits of high technology, while at the same time the regime quietly outlaws similar technological advances for its own citizens. "In Cuba," said Mr Viciedo, "one cannot speak of a digital divide, but rather of digital apartheid." The Cuban government wasted no time in responding to the May 16 Nuevo Herald article which publicized the new law tightening access to the Internet, e-mail and telephones. On May 17 the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma published an article by Felix Lopez ("The Nuevo Herald Recycles Lies") casting scorn on the report by the Florida newspaper. "I am not going to repeat here," declared Mr. Lopez, "the statistics and statements which on more than one occasion Cuba has made public in order refute the infamous campaigns staged by this Miami-based libelous source, and others, regarding the same theme." While denying that freedom of expression is limited on the island, Lopez highlighted government programs, such as Youth Computer Clubs for schoolchildren, which "socialize the use of new technologies and provide minorities with the pleasure of sitting in front of a computer." In his article, however, Mr. Lopez failed to point out that participants in Cuba's Youth Computer Clubs are forbidden to log onto the World Wide Web.