A PUMA Roars in Colombia
A new type of PUMA now prowls Colombia, though this one may bring more than sharp claws with it. Earlier this year, the Colombian government purchased “Plataforma Unificada de Monitoreo y Análisis (PUMA)”, a security platform intended to protect its citizens and ensure security. The debate on security versus privacy arises once again as PUMA threatens to violate the freedom of speech of millions of Colombian citizens.
The Colombian government currently uses a system called Esperanza (“Hope”) to investigate high impact crimes such as kidnappings, insurgency, terrorism and drug dealing. However the system is outdated and limited, as Esperanza can only intercept voice communications.Due to the growing number of internet users Esperanza has became obsolete and irrelevant for crime investigation. Thus, the Colombian government turned to PUMA to broaden the scope of their cyber investigation. It is being hailed as Hope 2.0. It can intercept any type of communication, from emails to Facebook messages to tweets, in its mission to “ensure security”.
Though internet monitoring is no new phenomenon, PUMA has sparked widespread debate across a Colombian nation that is no stranger to stringent security measures. Journalists, politicians and academics have expressed their fear of human rights violations, especially given the Colombian government’s history with privacy abuses. Indeed, Colombia’s last president was found guilty of illegally intercepting communications from politicians and other public figures.
Nonetheless, PUMA is a reality: the government has already spent US$ 50 million (1% of its GDP) and the system will be implemented in 2014. The government argues that the system is necessary to guarantee national security in an era where information communication technology is being utilized to facilitate and execute a host of high impact crimes from kidnaping to terrorism and drug-dealing.
Is the Colombian government ready to face and control the PUMA? There are certainly a plethora of black holes and grey zones in legislation. Still, the debate continues as to whether we must sacrifice privacy in order to ensure national security?
Either way, it is the responsibility of the Colombian government to respect the legally mandated process of ensuring intelligence and security do not violate free expression of thought.
Perhaps as a consequence of our digitized era, the PUMA roars on.
Pedro Oswaldo Hernandez is a fourth year student of Economics and Political Science at the Universidad de Los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia) and a co-founder of the Ágora Latinoamérica social entrepreneurship project.
Viviana Urueña is an Economist of Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia) and specialist with “Computadores para Educar”, a Government program responsible for bridging the social and regional gap of Colombia by bringing ICTs to children in rural and remote zones and by training its teachers with technology.
Artículo publicado en Brown Human Rights Report el 14 de julio de 2013.