Digital Rights in the Caribbean: Not to be Lost in the Eternal Darkness

Soledad Magnone, Anatoli Peña, Stacey-Ann Wilson, Yacine Khelladi, David Aragort / Apr 5, 2024

“Digital rights are human rights!” is a motto repeated by various civil society groups, especially since the pandemic. Nevertheless, among the most common challenges that advocates concerned with digital rights face is competing with human rights issues that seem more urgent to address, explains Ángela Alarcón, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Campaigner at Access Now. This is the case in LAC, where structural social problems and fundamental rights issues are still not solved.

Nonetheless, in the digital age, digital rights should not be separated from human rights. Freedom of expression, privacy, and women's rights, for example, are being impacted by censorship, surveillance, and gender-based violence mediated by digital technologies. Digital rights insist on safe online platforms and open internet for everyone to thrive regardless of their background. Every time digital rights are dismissed, a huge door opens to governments and companies to decide what happens in these spaces. This results in bad decision-making, based on ignorance at best and political agendas at worst.

Within the LAC region, the Caribbean has particular digital rights challenges due to geographical and socio-political characteristics. It is hard to talk about digital IDs when there are connectivity issues, for example. The first barrier is to make these topics visible and resonant with local and global audiences, moving them from technical and opaque language and processes to day-to-day knowledge that everyone in the region can use.

To bolster and expand knowledge and community, some of these matters were addressed by the Digital Human Rights in the Caribbean Wikimedia Campaign, organized by AfroCrowd, Wikimedians of the Caribbean, Access Now, and JAAKLAC. This article takes note of some of the current issues, such as the implications of digital transformation, digital ID systems, censorship, and surveillance through the cases of Cuba, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. It further shares recommendations from the experience of documenting digital rights by editing Wikipedia, summarizing #DigiCariRights activities organized at Mozilla Festival and RightsCon 2022.

This summary of key ideas is framed by a true story from Anatoli Peña, a cybersecurity and language activist from the Dominican Republic, and is organized into four “acts" that consider technological promises, sharp implications for social justice, and the significance of documentation to reflect and act upon alternative solutions.

Act 1 - Digital transformation, an impeccable silhouette

"Night was falling with oppressive density on the lonely, dark street. My return home was interrupted by a disconcerting sight: a man in an impeccable white suit and hat stood in the darkness, his gaze fixed on the one house that stood in the desolate street. Before my eyes his posture and bodily expression exuded nostalgia and deep regret, as if he were carrying the weight of a grave mistake made in the past, or perhaps an impending one. However, the image his silhouette projected suggested a person of great wealth, or so it seemed."

In the Dominican Republic (DR), the existing framework and regulation for data privacy and protection has promoted the financial and banking sectors, explained Yacine Khelladi, an economist and international consultant from the Dominican Republic. Despite predictions of great benefits and a new era of shared digital wealth, the benefits of digital transformation have been mainly captured by the business sector and a few corporations. There are no civil society organizations in the DR effectively working to defend digital privacy or protecting them from potential abuse from the government or corporations, nor is there any organization actively advocating for digital rights. Issues of data protection have been pushed by some, but almost nothing has been accomplished in recent years. This is a very difficult situation, and data privacy remains very low on the agenda of non-tech organizations. Among the key challenges for those concerned with digital rights in the DR is figuring out how to explain these issues to the people who are working on all other sectors such as human rights, environment, heath, education, worker and migrants rights. The risks associated with digital development are becoming bigger and tend to amplify exclusionary factors already present in analog spaces. Since 2015, the premise of a rollout of DR’s digital ID systems threatens to deepen the stark discrimination already faced by 200,000 Dominicans, in particular those who migrated from Haiti.

Act 2 - Jamaica's Digital ID bill, an invisible dagger

"My surprise and fear instantly intertwined, an invisible dagger thrust into my stomach. To my dismay, I noticed that he held a sharp object in his hand, a veiled threat that added a chill to the scene... a knife flashing faintly in the dim light of the distance. Suddenly, he turned to me and asked for help, his voice was low and whispery, denoting an age between sixty and seventy, though his bearing maintained a slender stiffness reminiscent of military times. A perfume, serene but imposing, enveloped the air and created a singular atmosphere that made me feel I was in the presence of someone powerful and dangerous, unlike any fragrance I had ever smelled."

The sharp effects of a digital ID system were explored by academics and civil society in Jamaica. Stacey-Ann Wilson, a consultant on ICT4D from Jamaica, has researched her country’s National Identification System (NIDS). The NIDS started in 2017 and implied that people not taking part would be fined or charged criminally and excluded from services in the public and private sector. This unprecedented decision was rushed through both houses of parliament, with minimal public discussions. Discussions within parliament, as rushed as the process was, netted some 168 suggested amendments.

However, the bill did not shed its most controversial and problematic clauses and was challenged in Jamaica’s constitutional Court. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the NIDS bill was unconstitutional and therefore null and void. In 2021, after a public consultation process, a new bill was drafted and eventually passed in parliament. In the redraft, participation in the digital ID system is voluntary rather than mandatory; however, participation is still highly intrusive. The system requires family information, which people might not know, such as the correct name of parents or guardians. This is particularly problematic for rural people, as many are not raised by their biological fathers and only know them by a nickname or pen name, which is not the registered name required to authenticate you as a person on NIDS.

Another concern about the digital ID system derives from many citizens’ lack of trust in the government, despite the party in power. Regardless of countless issues on privacy and security, in 2022, the NIDS pilot program was approved to be rolled out with the government engaging in a campaign to entice citizens to participate. The rollout happened against a backdrop of much-publicized data breaches on government sites and banks, as well as connectivity stability issues across the island affecting residential, commercial, and government offices.

Act 3 - Cuba's digital surveillance and censorship, a message for old companions

"He explained that he was looking for a friend who used to live in that area, but whom he had not seen for more than two decades. I mentioned having heard the name Fulano, but had never had direct contact with the person. I suggested inquiring about the house that had previously captured his attention, but he quickly dismissed the idea. Arguing that time was short, he gave me the mission to find his old companion and convey the message: "Tell him that an old friend came to visit him and did not find him".

As noted in the cases of the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, digital solutions, such as digital ID systems, bolster and amplify traditional structures of discrimination and oppression in Cuba. Internet and mobile devices are now effective means to boost the censorship that has prevailed in Cuba for decades. Marianne Díaz Hernández and David Aragort research internet blackouts and digital ID systems in Cuba, where the internet has been, since the beginning, mostly unavailable to the general population. Internet access is controlled by the government agency ETECSA, and access is reserved to a few people. Even for tourists, internet access is heavily censored and expensive.

Since 2016, the #KeepItOn Coalition monitored and reported internet shutdowns and other types of digital censorship tactics by the Cuban government. For instance, SMS messages are surveilled and filtered if they include words like “democracy,” “human rights,” or even “VPN” (an internet censorship circumvention tool). The case of Cuba is representative of increasing global trends in mobile network censorship. With the network’s expansion, mobile devices are used to record police abuse, demonstrations, and human rights violations. Thus, police and state surveillance and attacks are growing around the world, targeting those who use these devices.

Act 4 - Documenting on Wikipedia, not to be lost in the eternal darkness.

"With haste, he emphasized that he did not have much time and that he had to leave immediately. He walked away and, as if reality itself had vanished, he faded into the shadows without getting into a vehicle or running. It was as if he vanished in an act of magic, disappearing from my sight without a trace... swallowed by the night.

I stood there, perplexed, with the weight of the inexplicable on my shoulders. Who was this mysterious man in the white suit? What secrets haunted his soul and drove him to seek out his former friend? What secrets did the Fulano's past hide? The shadows of the night, mute as silent witnesses, offered me no answers. I could only contemplate the place where that enigmatic visitor had vanished, leaving behind him a mystery that was lost in the eternal darkness."

Human rights in the digital age engender new and old perils. Nevertheless, digital agendas continue to privilege access, sidelining attuned educational systems that leverage a critical consciousness and participation to manifest fairer societies. Examples of this critical digital education have been implemented by the #DigiCariRights collaborations, documenting and disseminating issues around digital rights in the Caribbean islands.

In this endeavor, Ian Ramjohn from Wiki Education shares recommendations to harness the power of Wikipedia, the most widely read and referenced encyclopedia. This wiki-based open collaborative platform has been built upon volunteer contributors from around the world. Populating Wikipedia with issues of digital rights is a fundamental starting point. However, editing human rights in Wikipedia entails a handful of key tactics:

1. Can I say this in one sentence? First sentence of your article or of your paragraph is most important because for most people that's all they're going to read. "Digital rights—human rights in relation to digital technologies—present particular challenges in the Caribbean countries, due to its geographies, political context, social inequalities and cultural diversity. While they face the same problem of digital divides as other regions, for islands the impacts of not accessing or understanding digital technologies can have particularly harmful consequences." Wikipedia DigiCariRights page

2. Cite your sources right after the statement they support when you're reading Wikipedia. Human rights in the digital age are often dismissed and under-researched. To create the Wikipage, the DigiCariRights campaign elaborated a review of literature on different topics with reports, news and academic articles.

3. Don't write about yourself or your own organization. Conflict of interest and potential conflict of interest is a real concern, because it's really hard to be critical. If you're doing it or if you are paid to do this, you have to declare it. During the DigiCariRights Wiki editathons, we shared the literature review, encouraging more people to populate Wikipedia.


Today, the #DigiCariRights campaign continues to inquire and expose secrets about digital technologies that are often obscured behind polished silhouettes. These problems are especially acute in the Caribbean islands, an often neglected geography that has long been impacted by colonial and imperialist powers. Which ideologies from the past are being foregrounded by digital solutions? How can we come together to repurpose these as instruments for collective power and liberation? We invite the reader to contribute to the Wiki Digital Human Rights in the Caribbean Wikimedia page in English or Spanish, and support the effort to translate this material into different languages. You can engage with this campaign across social media with the hashtag #DigiCariRights. Don’t let Caribbean justice be left as another mystery lost in darkness.

The article summarizes and updates the #DigiCariRights activities organized at Mozilla Festival and RightsCon 2022.


Soledad Magnone
Soledad Magnone is a Uruguayan sociologist dedicated to the intersections between digital technologies, education, and human rights. She is the director of the JAAKLAC initiative, which researches and advocates for Critical Digital Education and youth participation, especially from Latin America and...
Anatoli Peña
Anatoli Peña is an IT Consultant from Dominican Republic. He translates digital resources and tools such as CENO Browser and SecureDrop, ensuring accessibility for Spanish speakers. Anatoli considers himself a multifaceted artist who actively explores visual arts, music, and writing.
Stacey-Ann Wilson
Stacey-Ann Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. She is a critical political economist with specific interest in culture, democracy, technology for development, and informal economies.
Yacine Khelladi
Yacine Khelladi is an economist with approximately 30 years of experience in ICT for Development (ICT4D) or digital development. Throughout his career, he has been engaged in researching, designing, implementing, and evaluating various digital projects, programs, and policies. He has supported initi...
David Aragort
David Aragort is a digital rights advocate and researcher working at the intersection of technology, democracy and human rights. For the past five years he has developed digital security trainings for at-risk communities in Latin American and Caribbean countries, while leading projects that seek to ...