Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has used his decree powers to overhaul the country's intelligence agencies, putting all operations under his control.
The new intelligence law dissolves Venezuela's two main intelligence services: the Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services - DISIP - and the Directorate for Military Intelligence - DIM and replaces them with new agencies: the General Intelligence Office and General Counterintelligence Office, to be overseen by Mr. Chavez.
The law requires Venezuelans to comply with requests to assist the new agencies, whose secret police and community monitoring groups are loyal to the Venezuelan president. Those who refuse can serve anywhere from two to six years in prison.
Human rights advocates and legal scholars have condemned the measure, charging it will force citizens to inform on one another to avoid prison terms.
Mr. Chavez says the law is intended to protect national security and combat U.S. interference.
The intelligence overhaul reflects a bid by Mr. Chavez to assert greater control over public institutions.
Under the law, intelligence officials can use electronic methods, such as wiretapping, to intercept and obtain information.
Venezuela's Interior Minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, says the law taps into the responsibility all Venezuelans have to what he referred to as "the security of the state and the resolution of any crime."
Mr. Chavez has repeatedly accused the United States of spying on his government. Last month, he said the United States had been using anti-drug flights in the Caribbean to spy on Venezuela. U.S. officials said a U.S. military aircraft inadvertently violated Venezuelan airspace because of a navigation problem.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.