Internet Applications: Don't Cry for Me in Argentina!

Let's imagine a normal scene from daily life: you wake up one day in Buenos Aires and want to remember a video that you saw on YouTube a few months earlier. You try to open the application, but receive this message: YouTube does not have a license to operate in Argentina as an Information and Communication Technology (ICT). A license for YouTube? You may think you're dreaming, but you're not: if the draft bill "Digital Argentina" is passed, this could happen. And not only with YouTube...the law broadly defines ICTs and requires them to have a license to operate. Don't cry for me in Argentina, Internet ICT applications!

To be clear: modernizing the telecommunications law in Argentina is necessary. Any initiative to guarantee, for example, net neutrality or citizens' access to Internet has legitimate objectives. But when the law is hastily put together, there can be ridiculous consequences. The definition of ICTs that the Senate Commission added is from the Colombian law. But in Colombia, licenses are not required in the case of ICTs. "Cutting and pasting," if done carelessly and without sufficient understanding, is dangerous. But it makes sense that this has occurred, because the Commission took only two weeks to review a poorly done draft put forward by the Executive Power. In terms of the reasons for the rush, we can only speculate about the political motives behind pleasing a President who is anxious to pass this law.

My goal isn't to bore you by citing additional technical deficiencies of "Digital Argentina," which has received enormous opposition from within academia, civil society and the private sector. A recurring criticism is related to the extensive powers that it gives to a regulatory authority, which will be designated after the law has been passed and whose creator will be the Executive Power. And, to return the beginning, that will be the authority that could decide against granting licenses to Internet applications, to cite a single example of what could happen.

But the "Digital Argentina" bill is just one of a number of initiatives related to Internet regulation that have been cropping up this season.

For example, at midnight at the end of a marathon session on November 12th when twenty different bills were discussed, the House of Representatives approved - after little debate - a bill presented by a Representative from the governing party that prohibits advertisements or publications that make "explicit or implicit" references to soliciting people for transactional sex, using any means of communication. At first glance, this could seem like well-intentioned approach for combatting human trafficking in Argentina. But when we point out that a regulatory authority - yes, another regulatory authority that will be designated after the law's passage - will be able to monitor all forms of communication to detect messages related to commercial sex, we can anticipate how dangerous it could be to enable by law the possibility of this kind of monitoring.

There are more draft bills of this kind, such as the "right to be forgotten," ones related to prohibiting discriminatory acts online, and others.

A good question to ask one's self is where all of these bills are coming from. A better response may be found in the combination of, on the one hand, a lack of understanding of the technical issues among those who are driving draft bills like the ones mentioned earlier; and, on the other hand, their interest in participating in the wave of debates unfolding worldwide on issues related to Internet regulation. This interest is certainly legitimate, as may be the objectives of these laws. But the regulation of rights in the digital era requires prudence and expertise to prevent undesirable results or, worse, violations of fundamental rights, such as those that could occur by passing laws like the ones mentioned here.