Costa Rica upholds principles of openness and freedom of expression, but lacks sufficient privacy laws and oversight of surveillance. This earns an Average rating on the Privacy Protection Index. While internet access expands and censorship remains limited, Costa Rica needs reform. A 2012 data law mandates years of user data storage. Existing laws also enable abuse. Though improving, connectivity and literacy rates trail regional averages. Oversight and limits on surveillance authority are lacking. Despite pros like few file sharing restrictions, Costa Rica requires strengthened privacy laws and oversight to improve their Average PPI rating. Progress could position them as a Latin American digital rights leader.
- Light government censorship relative to some nations
- Open internet allows access to global networks
- Relaxed regulations on file sharing for personal use
- Engaged digital rights groups advocate for openness
- Expanding connectivity and access initiatives
Recommended alternative: Uruguay
- No comprehensive privacy laws like GDPR. Data abuse enabled
- Little oversight of broad government surveillance
- Some laws open to censorship overreach
- Limited internet access in rural areas. Lags region
- Reforms needed to guarantee free expression
- Oversight lacking for privacy and data protection
Freedom of Expression and Censorship
Costa Rica has a strong constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression that extends to the internet and press freedom. Censorship of online content remains largely limited in Costa Rica, earning a rating of Average for freedom of expression on the PPI.
While Costa Rica faces few government restrictions on access to information or censorship of political content online, some laws enable opportunities for overreach. The 2012 Cybercrime Law established offenses of “insult” and “offense” that are sometimes abused to censor critical voices. Defamation laws have also been used to penalize journalists and silence dissent. The broad mandate of these laws threatens open dialogue.
However, censorship is not commonplace, and Costa Rica has an otherwise open internet. The government does not routinely block websites, filter content, or curb access to social media or communication apps. Self-censorship in media is limited, and diverse viewpoints are represented online.
The judiciary has at times defended free speech and overturned censorship attempts. But decisions are inconsistent, and more needs to be done to limit openings for content restriction abuse. Civil society groups actively advocate for freedom of expression, pushing back against potential censorship and urging more speech-friendly reforms.
P2P and Torrenting
Costa Rica allows open access to P2P file sharing and torrenting without imposing strict laws. The 2013 Copyright Law targets commercial piracy, but if overapplied, could affect non-commercial sharing. The 2012 Cybercrime Law’s vague terms could deter P2P-based activism if misused. Advocacy groups and courts defend internet freedom, but inconsistent decisions and lack of transparency remain concerns.
Costa Rica’s policies have an above-average rating for open P2P access. However, potential overreach and unclear laws prevent higher ratings. The government should ensure non-commercial sharing rights and increase oversight, while courts must defend against disproportionate enforcement.
Government Surveillance and Data Retention Laws
Costa Rica protects privacy in its constitution and laws, but has recently expanded government surveillance powers. In 2012, Costa Rica passed a data retention law requiring companies to store customer metadata for up to 5 years. Law enforcement can access this data without a warrant.
In 2019, Costa Rica reformed intelligence laws allowing bulk collection of communications data and access to private databases without oversight. Critics argue these violate privacy and enable abuse. Supporters say they are needed to investigate crimes.
There is debate on balancing privacy and security. While Costa Rica values privacy, recent laws threaten civil liberties by expanding government surveillance. The constitution establishes privacy rights and Costa Rica signed major treaties protecting privacy. However, laws like data retention undermine these commitments by allowing warrantless access to private customer data that provides intelligence on people’s lives. Bulk collection risks mass surveillance.
Costa Rica has traditionally valued and protected personal privacy. The Costa Rican constitution establishes the right to privacy and confidentiality of communications. Costa Rica is also a signatory to major international human rights treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that protect privacy.
However, while Costa Rica protects privacy in its laws and values, recent legislation has expanded government surveillance powers in ways that undermine some civil liberties. Laws like data retention allow warrantless access to private customer metadata that can provide intelligence on many aspects of people’s lives. Bulk collection of communications data risks enabling mass government surveillance.
Critics argue these laws violate Costa Ricans’ constitutional rights to privacy. There is an ongoing debate in Costa Rica about how to balance privacy rights with perceived security needs. Overall, Costa Rica aspires to protect citizens’ privacy but faces domestic and international pressure to grant intelligence agencies more powers to investigate crimes. Reforms are still needed to demand oversight, establish checks and balances, and preserve Costa Ricans’ basic human rights in the digital age.
1. Costa Rica: Cybercrime law threatens internet freedom. Global Voices Advox. (2012, July 20). https://advox.globalvoices.org/2012/07/20/costa-rica-cybercrime-law-threatens-internet-freedom/
2. Coha. (2012, September 20). Costa Rica’s cybercrime law-censorship or a reasonable law? COHA. https://coha.org/costa-ricas-cybercrime-law-censorship-or-a-reasonable-law/
3. State of Privacy brazil. Privacy International. (n.d.). https://privacyinternational.org/state-privacy/42/state-privacy-brazil