Freedom on the Net 2022 - Costa Rica

/ 100
Obstacles to Access 21 / 25
Limits on Content 34 / 35
Violations of User Rights 33 / 40
87 / 100 Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.


Costa Rica continues to have one of the world’s most open online environments. Internet access is generally robust, though socioeconomic and geographic divides persist. Users enjoy unfettered access to online content and their rights to free expression are largely protected by the laws and the courts. Government institutions face disruptive cyberattacks, however, while misinformation and activity from inauthentic accounts inform online discussions during electoral periods.

Costa Rica has a long history of democratic stability, with a multiparty political system and regular rotations of power through credible elections. Freedoms of expression and association are robust. The rule of law is strong, though presidents have often been implicated in corruption scandals. Among other ongoing concerns, LGBT+ people and Indigenous people face discrimination, and land disputes involving Indigenous communities persist.

Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • Internet access has continued to increase, and initiatives to expand coverage and reduce digital divides saw progress during the coverage period (see A1 and A2).
  • Misinformation and activity from inauthentic accounts spread online ahead of February 2022 general elections. Various institutions launched projects to combat those forces, including the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), which worked with Facebook to enable a direct channel between its platform and electoral magistrates so that they could request the removal of posts containing electoral misinformation (see B5).
  • Russian-linked ransomware attacks in April and May 2022 targeted nearly 30 ministries and the country’s public health service, paralyzing essential public services and government institutions for over a month and leading the president to declare a state of emergency (see C8).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 5 / 6

Score Change: The score improved from 4 to 5 due to an increase in internet penetration rates in recent years.

Internet access in Costa Rica has been steadily increasing. As of January 2022, internet penetration had reached 81.6 percent.1 There were 7.72 million mobile connections in the country at that time, equivalent to 149.6 percent of the total population and a 2.9 percent increase from the previous year.2 Third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) mobile coverage is available to 94 and 93 percent of the population, respectively.3

According to the most recently available data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2020, 85 percent of households had internet access at home, and 91 out of every 100 inhabitants had active mobile-broadband subscriptions.4

According to Speedtest Global Index, the median download speed of fixed broadband in July 2022, after the coverage period, was 56.06 megabits per second (Mbps) and 10.40 Mbps for upload. The same period showed the median download speed of mobile connections at 17.40 Mbps and upload at 6.93 Mbps.5

Costa Rica's fiber-optic infrastructure has steadily expanded over recent years. The country’s Superintendency of Telecommunications (SUTEL) reported in December 2021 that the country's total fiber-optic infrastructure had expanded by 28.5 percent between June 2020 and June 2021, to a total of roughly 188,461 kilometers (117,104 miles).6 In August 2022, after the coverage period, the government presented for consultation an updated National Telecommunications Development Plan (PNDT) for 2022–2027; expanding and improving fixed and mobile internet connectivity is the first of three major public policy objectives outlined in the plan.7

The public sector has also attempted to increase coverage. For example, in August 2020, kölbi, owned by the state-owned Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) telecommunications company, announced the expansion of its 4G network. Nearly 200 new cell sites were established in communities outside the capital, with 3G and 4G available across almost the entire country.8 Other operators have advanced their implementation of 4G; for example, Movistar announced that it would convert to 4G LTE by the end of 2021.9

Since 2018, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT) has incorporated fifth-generation (5G) goals into its 2019–22 National Development and Public Investment Plan.10 MICITT reported that the 5G Network Project had reached 49.1 percent of its 50 percent annual progress goal by the end of 2021.11

The nationwide implementation of 5G technology has faced delays, however. The Quesada administration (2018–2022) faced obstacles in its goal to recover all 5G frequencies before launching a 5G tender because ICE was initially uncooperative in relinquishing its 5G-suitable frequencies after being first notified of the planned frequency retrieval by the MICITT in June 2021. The protracted dispute—which led the government to open a related administrative procedure into possible legal and contractual breaches by the company in March 202212 —finally came to an end after the coverage period. Newly elected president Rodrigo Chaves Robles confirmed in September 2022 that he had signed an agreement with ICE to return its unused 5G-suitable spectrum. In May 2022, Robles had ordered ICE to return its 5G-suitable spectrum holdings to the MICITT within six months.13

While the country's connectivity infrastructure is generally efficient, several phenomena can affect connectivity. These include a rainy season from May to November, which brings flooding risks, and seismic movements, as the country is located in a subduction zone where three major tectonic plates interact.14 Hurricanes also bring flooding and can otherwise damage infrastructure.15

Connectivity is also threatened by cable theft. In March 2021, ICE announced that cable theft over the past year had left 36,000 of its users in over half of the country’s cantons without internet and phone service.16

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 2 / 3

While Costa Rica has recognized internet access as a fundamental right since 2010, disparities persist. Barriers are in part geographic, with only 79 percent of households in rural areas, versus 87 percent of households in urban areas, reporting having internet access in 2020.17 The government has several active initiatives to expand access, but the National Telecommunications Fund (FONATEL), which spearheads many of them, has faced occasional criticism for aspects of its operations.

In 2022, the average monthly cost of fixed-line broadband was $38.16 per month.18 One GB of mobile service cost an average of 1,500 colones ($2.17) per month. The cheapest price for 1 GB of mobile service was 960 colones ($1.39), while the most expensive was 6,667 colones ($9.64).19 The average monthly income per household in 2021 was 991,568 colones ($1,514.78),20 though there was a disparity between urban and rural areas; the average monthly household income in urban areas was 1,119,073 colones ($1,709.56), while in rural areas it was 651,511 colones ($995.29). Cheaper prepaid plans, constituting 66.6 percent of mobile plans in 2020, are conditioned with restrictions like lower network performance.21

SUTEL publishes tariff rates, which correspond to the maximum rates that can be charged for telecommunication services. As of April 2022, the maximum rate of 1 GB of prepaid mobile internet was 7,600 colones ($11.58); postpaid mobile internet with 128/64 kbps bandwidth was $15 monthly.22

Costa Rica ranks third of 72 countries in the 2021 Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) report, which measures policy and regulatory factors that can enable more affordable broadband.23

Costa Rica has local and regional internet providers, which in many cases are rural electrification cooperatives, such as Coopelesca in the northern region and Coopeguanacaste in the Chorotega region. This model has diversified and democratized access to fixed internet at home for territories outside the central valley.24 FONATEL, which is administered by SUTEL, promotes universal access, aiming to expand coverage to areas and communities that lack service. FONATEL provides free internet services to Basic Integrated Health Care Teams (EBAIS), intelligent community centers (CECI), schools, and public colleges.25 FONATEL also provides connectivity for various vulnerable populations, with efforts funded by concessions from telecommunications companies.26

Costa Rica has made proactive and successful efforts to reduce a gendered digital divide, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet. For example, women's access is included in the National Telecommunications Development Plan 2015–21, which among other initiatives subsidizes internet connection for women entrepreneurs.27 The MICITT’s final evaluation of the plan reported that one initiative, Hogares Conectados (Connected Homes), had successfully granted internet access to nearly 360,000 women, including over 120,000 female-led households, by December 2021.28

FONATEL’s Connected Public Spaces is another initiative to reduce the digital divide. The program seeks to bring free, high-speed internet to public spaces throughout the country, including parks, squares, public libraries, train stations, and civic centers. This is a long-term program, with a comprehensive sustainability model that includes the development of telecommunications infrastructure (broadband), and promoting digital literacy.29 As of March 2022, 2,500 kilometers of fiber-optic cable have connected 513 public places, including more than 400 parks and squares, 61 public libraries, 28 train stations, and seven civic centers.30 FONATEL has faced criticism in recent years, however, for the slow deployment of plans and the redirection of funds earmarked for expanding access to pay for deficits generated by the telecommunications sector.31

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 6 / 6

There are no government-imposed connectivity restrictions in Costa Rica.32

Three fiber-optic submarine cables connect the country to the global network. Since April 2014, Costa Rica has had an internet exchange point (IXP) called CRIX, operated by the Network Information Center Costa Rica (NIC-CR). The body is an independent department of the National Academy of Sciences that has been declared a project of public interest by the government through the MICITT.33

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 4 / 6

Until 2008, ICE held a state monopoly on telecommunications, but Costa Rica has since encouraged private investment.34 The National Telecommunications Development Plan 2015–21 outlines the current policy for the sector, while SUTEL promotes competition and seeks to ensure that operators and providers can compete without major barriers or market manipulation or discrimination.35

According to SUTEL, ICE captured 41.1 percent of all mobile subscribers by the end of 2020, under kölbi. Telefónica had around 38.6 percent of users, under Movistar, followed by América Móvil, at about 20.3 percent, under Claro. ICE also led the market share for fixed internet in 2020, with 33.1 percent. Cabletica had 22.2 percent, Telecable Económico had 19.9 percent, Millicom had 18.5 percent, and 37 other operators and service providers made up the remaining share.36

There are a number of requirements to establish and operate telecom services. All applications for frequency use must be submitted to the MICITT. Frequency concessions for public telecommunications network operations are determined in public contest procedures.37

SUTEL has clearly defined procedures, established in article 63 of Law No. 8642, for setting the fees telecommunication companies must pay for use of the radioelectric spectrum.38

According to the Regulations to the General Telecommunications Law No. 34765-MINAE, article 77 establishes the rights of way and shared use of physical infrastructure, whereby the public telecommunications infrastructure, which is the responsibility of ICE, should be shared with private operators.39

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 4 / 4

Regulatory bodies are generally independent. The MICITT is composed of the Office of the Minister and two vice-ministries: the Vice-Ministry of Science and Technology, focusing on promoting research, the use of digital technologies, and the application of innovation in processes between the academic, governmental, and business sectors; and the Vice-Ministry of Telecommunications, responsible for proposing telecommunications policies and the country's digital agenda. The Vice-Ministry of Telecommunications also manages the use of the radio spectrum and coordinates the preparation of the National Telecommunications Development Plan. The telecommunications vice-ministry works on this with other public institutions, SUTEL, and public and private operators.40

SUTEL is responsible for regulating, supervising, enforcing, and controlling the telecommunications regulatory framework, and supports the MICITT by proposing policy development. It also administers FONATEL—the fund tasked with expanding internet access—and ensures that network operators and telecommunications service providers comply with universal access and service obligations. It is further responsible for imposing sanctions for anticompetitive practices, but such actions also require affirmative opinions from the Commission for the Promotion of Competition (COPROCOM)—which reports to the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce—at the start of the assessment process and again before sanctions are issued.41

The MICITT, though, can separate itself from SUTEL’s technical criteria; for example, it declined to accept a 2014 spectrum concentration measurement proposed by SUTEL.42 Thus, there is room to consolidate SUTEL’s independent and technical role.

Costa Rican authorities support a multistakeholder internet governance model. Proposed policies, as well as aspects of policy implementation, are discussed with private and public stakeholders and in public consultation processes in which civil society groups participate.43 The National Telecommunications Plan 2022–2027 was opened to public consultation in November 2021;44 the plan had not been officially released by the MICITT as of the end of the coverage period, and the government opened consultation for an updated plan in August 2022.45

Although telecommunications regulatory bodies in Costa Rica are generally autonomous, stakeholders have expressed concern over “revolving-door” politics in which former senior government officials have participated in government forums as representatives of private businesses.46

B Limits on Content

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 6 / 6

There are no reports of the government or other actors blocking or filtering online content.

In recent years, taxi drivers have pressured the government to block the transportation mobile applications Uber, DiDi, and inDriver, but have not been successful, in part because there is no regulation authorizing such action in Costa Rican law.47 SUTEL reaffirmed that existing legislation does not allow the applications to be blocked as recently as March 2021; the entity cited requirements under the Law of the Public Service Regulating Authority (ARESEP) that telecommunications operators offer free, timely, and nondiscriminatory access to their networks to users and providers of online services.48

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 4 / 4

Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because of lasting efforts to strengthen already robust protections against forced removal of content.

The state does not intervene to remove content, except when ordered by a court or under exceptional conditions, such as to remove child sexual abuse images. Costa Rican regulations limit the liability of service providers.49

In recent years, the legal protection of personal data, particularly the right to be forgotten, has forced some outlets to remove content from their digital platforms. However, the powers of the Data Protection Agency (PRODHAB) to order the removal of content in the media has been ruled unconstitutional. In June 2020, the Constitutional Court struck down a 2015 resolution by PRODHAB ordering the newspaper Diario Extra to remove a photograph depicting the passport of someone who accused the border police of abuses. The court ruled that the resolution was detrimental to freedom of information, as the photograph was in the public interest, and said that the individual’s consent was not required to post it. The court reasoned that PRODHAB cannot use its power to enforce the Law for the Protection of the Person against the Processing of Personal Data, because doing so would constitute indirect state censorship.50

Between July and December 2021, Facebook restricted 17 items after receiving consumer policy reports from the Ministry of Health.51 Twitter reported no removal requests from Costa Rica during the same period.52

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 4 / 4

Content restrictions are derived from specific laws protecting the right to honor, privacy, and the protection of personal data, as well as the protection of minors. The 2011 Law on the Protection of Children and Adolescents from Harmful Content on the Internet, for example, limits the access of this population to content considered harmful to their moral or psychological integrity. Content can only be removed by court order.

In line with the Dominican Republic–Central America–United States Free Trade Agreement, Costa Rica has established an intermediary liability system for copyright infringement. Users who believe their rights have been violated must communicate, in writing, to the service provider, which has 15 days to take down the content if the request is legitimate. Takedowns can also occur through a judicial order. The system is relatively balanced, as it aims to limit the burden placed on service providers and mitigate harms against rights holders. However, it has also been criticized for ambiguity, as the limited intermediary liability applies to service providers who voluntarily abide by the rules.53

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice has ruled that public entities that communicate using institutional accounts on social media cannot block other users who direct criticism to those accounts.54 The Constitutional Court ruled that in an open and democratic society, freedom of expression includes criticism of the conduct or operation of public bodies.

Regarding technical blocking, the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents from Harmful Content on the Internet obliges service providers to apply filters for certain harmful content, such as child sexual abuse images.55

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 4 / 4

Self-censorship online is not widespread. However, almost 30 percent of the journalists consulted for a 2020 freedom of expression report by the University of Costa Rica’s Program for Freedom of Expression, Right to Information and Public Opinion (PROLEDI) and the Research Center in Communication (CICOM) stated that they had self-censored during the last year for fear of punishment, harassment, or attacks. When asked from which sectors these threats come, several respondents said political groups. The questionnaire was given to 161 media outlets, 18 of them digital.56

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 3 / 4

The government does not control or manipulate online information sources.57 Networks of inauthentic accounts have been found to amplify political content and spread misinformation ahead of elections, however.

Fake accounts were used to generate and amplify social media content ahead of the February 2022 general election. The Universidad Latina de Costa Rica found that an average of over 11 percent of social media content was published by inauthentic accounts during the electoral period, reaching peaks of 19 and 21 percent in the weeks leading up to the vote.58 Additionally, in April 2022, Meta announced that it had removed a network of 233 Facebook accounts, 84 pages, 2 groups, and 27 Instagram accounts for violating its policy on coordinated inauthentic behavior. The network, which originated in and targeted both Costa Rica and Ecuador, spent more than $128,000 on digital advertising and reached more than 212,000 social media accounts. It ran pages that posed as new outlets and amplified the pages’ content about local politicians. The network was found to have links to the Noelix Media public relations firm, which has offices in both countries.59

Inauthentic activity has also featured in past elections. A January 2021 report by the University of Oxford and Oxford Internet Institute Programme on Democracy & Technology found that the 2018 election featured “cyber troops” who used social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to disseminate false or misleading information about topics like corruption, government initiatives, immigration, and abortion. Before the runoff election, figures linked to the religious National Restoration Party (PRN), including its presidential candidate, spread six misleading polls with millions of cell phone users, whose information was gathered illegally. Such campaigns continued after the election; one connected to the religious New Republic party falsely stated that the government was raising the VAT tax. The report noted that the distorted information was not typically spread through automated accounts.60

Various Costa Rican institutions, organizations, and media outlets have sought to combat online disinformation in recent years (see B2). Included among these are the TSE, which has aimed to improve digital literacy and communication; the University of Costa Rica, which has established a fact-checking initiative called Double Check; and news outlet La Nación, which has launched the #NoComaCuento project to debunk false information circulating online.61

In January 2022, La Nación confirmed that Facebook would enable a direct channel of communication between the platform and the TSE a week ahead of the February 6 presidential elections to enable electoral magistrates to request that Facebook posts containing electoral misinformation be taken down. Electoral magistrates that identified false electoral information that could be corroborated as such and that had the potential to undermine residents’ right to vote, like the posting of inaccurate voting center hours, would deliberate and issue a resolution around the removal request as soon as possible. The TSE outlined its plan to exclusively use the channel to make expedited removal requests on election day.62

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 3 / 3

There are few economic, regulatory, or other constraints to users’ ability to express themselves or share information online. However, a 2018 PROLEDI and CICOM report found that journalists who report limits to diversity and pluralism online raise as problems the use of state advertising; financial sustainability; and the absence of public policies to promote pluralism and diversity (see B7).63 Many media outlets rely heavily on advertising to operate, with most supported by commercial advertising (78 percent), followed by state advertising (43 percent), and small donations or crowdfunding (16 percent). High concentration has also led to a small group of outlets, largely television and radio, receiving most state advertising.64

Costa Rica has not yet developed rules and regulations directly addressing net neutrality, but authorities have indicated support for the principle. The Law for the Strengthening and Modernization of Government Institutions in the Telecommunications Sector (Law No. 8660) of 2008 obliges operators to provide open access to networks and services (Article 75), and promotes transparent and nondiscriminatory investment in the telecommunications sector.65

B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 4 / 4

Costa Rica’s online information landscape is relatively diverse and reliable. According to a 2018 report from PROLEDI and CICOM, 47.4 percent of those who practice journalism on digital platforms believe that there are expressions of diversity and pluralism of information on the network.66

A 2020 report by the same organizations found that media outlets, including digital ones, are concentrated near the capital, and that 25 of Costa Rica’s 82 cantons have no dedicated media outlets. Ten percent of surveyed outlets use Indigenous languages; 33 percent surveyed said they had LGBT+ staff, 30 percent employed migrants and refugees, 20 percent employed Costa Ricans of African descent, and 14 percent had Indigenous employees, though gaps persisted between staff and managerial levels. There is also evidence of a gender gap.67

Though the online information landscape remains largely reliable, the presence of disinformation may cloud users’ ability to identify credible information. In May 2019, according to a 2021 CICOM publication, 18 and 19 percent of respondents had knowingly shared false information on WhatsApp and Facebook, respectively. At that time, 30 percent of respondents claimed to have little or no ability to recognize false information online.68

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 6 / 6

Digital tools are used for political and social activism. Social media is notably used to organize movements, share information, and collect evidence for legal challenges. Female activists have created social media campaigns to protest issues including land use by pineapple plantations and pollution. However, many of these activists have received threats in response to their activities.69

C Violations of User Rights

C1 0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 6 / 6

The Costa Rican constitution protects freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of the press. Article 28 states that no one may be persecuted for the expression of their opinion or for any act that does not violate the law.70 Similarly, article 29 states that everyone may communicate in writing and publish without prior censorship, though individuals also assume responsibility if they break laws while exercising these rights.71

The judiciary is largely independent and protects freedom of speech and of the press.72

While Costa Rica lacks specific legislation on freedom of expression online, the issue is considered in other legislation and judicial decisions. In several rulings, the Constitutional Chamber has referenced the exercise of freedom of expression online, taking as a basis articles 28 and 29 of the constitution, as well as various treaties signed by the country.73 Limits have also been established; for example, the Code of Children and Adolescents allows for some restrictions to freedom of expression online to protect the rights of children.74

Between 2012 and 2015, the Constitutional Chamber issued rulings that prevent state authorities operating institutional social media accounts from blocking users, arguing that criticism of the government is encompassed in the right to free expression, and that such freedom is extended to the use of social networks and information and communication technologies (see B3).75 .

Although Costa Rica does not have a law on access to public information, there is a vast Constitutional Chamber jurisprudence that guarantees this right to all citizens.76 The court has upheld the obligation of public administrations to provide “open data” that may be freely used and distributed.77 The country has also had an open government and open data policy since 2015, which promotes access to information, citizen participation, and the principles of transparency and government accountability.78 In May 2022, then-president Carlos Alvarado Quesada partially vetoed the “General Law of Access to Public Information and Transparency,” which had been approved by the Legislative Assembly a month before, on grounds that a number its clauses posed risk to the rights of access to information and freedom of the press. Press freedom and human rights advocates, who had labeled it the “Gag Law” in part due to the limitations it established on access to information, welcomed the decision.79

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 3 / 4

There are no specific laws establishing criminal or civil sanctions for online activities. However, crimes against honor such as slander and libel are defined as criminal offenses, both in the penal code80 and in the Printing Press Law.81

Article 145 of the penal code criminalizes insults, and article 146 defamation. Under article 147, falsely accusing someone of a crime is punishable by a fine of 150 days’ wages. Article 148 criminalizes harm to the reputation of a dead person via injurious or defamatory statements. The Printing Press Law contains similar provisions for media.82 Various political actors have pointed out that these provisions could be used to file criminal charges for statements made online by the press or by users denouncing issues like corruption, environmental degradation, and other concerns.83

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 6 / 6

There are no reports of individuals being penalized for online activities protected by international human rights standards. Recent reports of users who have been arrested or prosecuted are related to cases where the internet is used for illegal activities like extorting public figures, sharing nonconsensual intimate imagery,84 and disseminating child sexual abuse images.85

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3 / 4

There are no reports of restrictions on anonymous or encrypted communications. SIM card registration is mandatory, though a data-privacy framework is in place.86

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 5 / 6

The rights to privacy, intimacy, freedom, and secrecy in communications are enshrined in the constitution and are applicable to online activities. Article 24 of the Constitution establishes that private documents and written, oral, and other types of communications are inviolable, and that exceptions require special laws approved by a qualified majority of the parliament.87 These provisions have been reinforced by the Constitutional Chamber.88

SUTEL and PRODHAB are legally empowered to protect the rights of users but only do so upon request of a user, rather than proactively.89

The government is not known to collect communications metadata, intercept private communications, or monitor journalists, political figures, or human rights defenders, nor does it appear to have the technical capacity to do so.90 However, controversy over possible government surveillance arose in February 2020, when the media reported on the recent publication of an executive decree creating a Presidential Data Analysis Unit (UPAD) attached to the office of the president of the republic. The UPAD was given the power to access "confidential information held by public institutions when required.”91 The decree was repealed soon after it was made public in the media,92 but it led to a political crisis that resulted in the resignation of the minister of the presidency;93 criminal charges against the president;94 the dismissal of the advisers involved in drafting the decree;95 the installation of a legislative commission in parliament to investigate whether President Alvarado violated people’s right to privacy with the UPAD;96 and the raid of the presidential residence, ordered by the attorney general's office.97

In February 2022, the attorney general’s office requested that the Supreme Court lift then-president Alvarado’s immunity in order to start a trial against him for fraud of law, abuse of power, and prevarication in the creation of the UPAD.98 That same month, the public ethics prosecutor’s office initiated a lawsuit for social damages caused by the UPAD against Alvarado and Víctor Morales Mora, the former minister of the presidency, as well as a current deputy also implicated in the pending legal cases.99 The cases were pending at the end of the coverage period, and accusations of irregular access to sensitive information by the government had not been corroborated.

In June 2021, a new COVID-19 exposure notification system was automatically installed on users’ phones. Apple users were notified and given the choice to opt in or out. Android users saw the system as a new app before the government announced the initiative, and needed to activate it to opt in. The incident initially led to accusations of government surveillance,100 though the Ministry of Health responded to the criticism and clarified that the app does not use or collect geolocation or otherwise personal data.101

In March 2022, the permanent representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Catalina Devandas, called for an immediate moratorium on the use of spyware technology, making Costa Rica the first country to do so.102 In August 2022, after the coverage period, an investigation by Lighthouse Reports revealed that Italian surveillance company Tykelab had exploited vulnerabilities in global phone networks to send secret “tracking packets,” enabling third parties to view phone locations and potentially intercept calls without being detected, to individuals around the world, including in Costa Rica.103

C6 0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 5 / 6

The General Telecommunications Law establishes that service providers must guarantee the secrecy and privacy of communications, as well as the right to privacy and protection of personal data of internet users.104 Article 42 of the General Telecommunications Law obliges providers to guarantee that user communications and metadata will not be stored or monitored by third parties without their consent, except with a court order.105

Interception of communications is only applied in extreme scenarios.106 The law on the registration, seizure, and examination of private documents and the intervention of communications establishes that only courts may intervene in private communications, and only when it is essential to revealing necessary evidence on criminal cases of an urgent social need, as a last resort.107

In the same sense, the Law for the Protection of Individuals guarantees the right to informational self-determination, which encompasses guarantees regarding the legitimate processing of their personal data. It also gives users the right to rectification and the right of data subjects to access their data.108 This recognition is one of the mechanisms to guarantee the constitutional right to privacy and intimacy and is, at the same time, the guideline that must be complied with to collect, retain, or inspect personal data of the inhabitants.

Some critics have pointed out that the Law for the Protection of Individuals is an incomplete and outdated law, with gaps that do not adequately address contemporary challenges such as automated data collection and processing, data geolocation, and knowledge of where the data is stored.109 In addition, they have pointed out that the broad wording of some articles may be interpreted to the detriment of individual privacy.110 A proposed reform to the law promoted by the Citizen Action Party and supported by civil society organizations111 would update principles, guarantee the rights of users in the digital era, grant independence to the national agency that protects personal data, and regulate the extraterritoriality of data processing.112

In February 2022, the Consultative Committee of “Convention 108+,” the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data of the Council of Europe, sent a public letter to the president of Costa Rica’s legislative assembly backing the project.113 Proponents of the Costa Rican law have expressed interest in adhering to Convention 108+, a Council of Europe treaty on the protection of personal data online.114 Argentina, Mexico, and Uruguay were the only other Latin American nations to have ratified the convention as of the end of the coverage period. At the end of the coverage period, the proposed reform was awaiting a Legislative Assembly vote.

Shortcomings in the legislation have become visible in cases related to the registration of biometric data. The authorities of the city of Alajuela announced in November 2020 the installation of 195 cameras that would use facial-recognition technology and artificial intelligence to detect crimes, even as the country lacks a specific rule regulating the storage and processing of biometric data.115 In response to criticism, the attorney general’s office determined that municipalities lack the power to manage the facial registry of inhabitants and established that a special law is needed on the subject.116 The law proposed by the Citizen Action Party would correct this issue.

Between July and December 2021, Facebook received 17 requests for information on 36 accounts. The company produced information in response to 41 percent of those requests. Four were related to the legal process and 13 were related to emergency disclosure requests.117 Google received 10 requests on 12 accounts between July and December 2021, eight emergency requests and two for other legal reasons, and produced some data in 70 percent of the cases.118

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 4 / 5

Certain segments of the population face harassment and intimidation. Women activists advocating against pineapple plantations in part through the use of smartphones and social media have been threatened online in the past, for example.119

In June 2022, after the coverage period, a Mexican journalist living in Costa Rica was visited at his radio station by five armed migration police officers after tweeting a criticism of President Rodrigo Chaves the month prior. The police reported that they were clarifying his immigration status based on an anonymous citizen query, within their mandate and regular scope of work; the journalist, Alberto Padilla, indicated that he suspected the visit was related to his May tweet.120

Previously, No Coma Cuento, an initiative of the newspaper La Nación to fight disinformation, noted that migrants and refugees were the main victims of false news spread in the context of Costa Rica’s February 2020 municipal elections.121 Anonymous Facebook pages are also used to incite hatred against Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica. During 2020 and 2021, misleading images circulated of supposed groups of Nicaraguans infected with COVID-19 entering Costa Rica over the country's northern border.122

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1 / 3

Score change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because ransomware attacks in April and May 2022 paralyzed essential public services and government institutions for over a month and led the president to declare a state of emergency.

The websites of government entities are subject to different types of cyberattacks.123

Two major ransomware attacks paralyzed essential state institutions and services and caused the loss of millions of dollars from the private sector during the coverage period. From mid-April to early May 2022, a Russian-linked ransomware group known as Conti targeted nearly 30 government ministries, starting with the ministry of finance.124 Conti demanded that the government pay a $20-million ransom to return, and keep them from leaking, the stolen information.125 The group also warned of its intentions to overthrow the government via cyberattack, in a separate statement. The attacks, which disrupted tax collection and export systems for over a month, led President Chaves to declare a national emergency on May 8.126 Conti also targeted municipal governments and academic institutions during this time.127 The impact of the attacks was long-lasting: the online system for the Ministry of Finance’s Virtual Tax Administration (ATV) remained offline until June 13, 2022.128 Some commentators alleged that Conti was motivated by Costa Rica siding with Ukraine in the context of Russia’s invasion, though cybersecurity experts believed that it was purely a matter of financial gain.129

Later in May, while still grappling with the aftereffects of the first attack, Costa Rican institutions fell victim to another ransomware attack. On May 31, 2022, the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), the country’s public health service, was targeted with Hive ransomware that forced it to take its systems offline.130 The Hive ransomware group, which is believed to have links to Conti, demanded $5 million in bitcoin to decrypt the systems.131 CCSS declared an institutional emergency a few days later. Reporting indicated that over half of the service’s 1,500 servers had been affected and detailed significant disruptions, like the rescheduling of nearly 35,000 health appointments.132

In June 2022, shortly after the April and May ransomware attacks, the MICITT announced a joint effort with state universities to address the country’s cybersecurity issues. The initiative aims to use the tools and knowledge that state universities use in managing cyberattacks to inform and strengthen national capacity to respond to such incidents.133

In 2012, the Computer Security Incident Response Center, based at the MICITT,134 had been created to work with government offices and public institutions like state banks on information and cybersecurity. 135