Data plan

Mexico approves law to require biometric data for buying mobile phones.

The Mexican Senate passed a law on 13 April 2021 with 54 votes against 49 to create a national registry of mobile telephone users. Users registering a new telephone line will need to provide their ID, digital fingerprints, passport photo and address.

A telecommunications executive vented his frustration, “It is an aberration that threatens the freedom of Mexicans and it is against the right to be able to maintain communication. Operators are not prepared to collect and protect such data, they don’t have the staff with the necessary skills, and they certainly don’t have the budget for it.”

“It is an aberration that threatens the freedom of Mexicans and it is against the right to be able to maintain communication.”

Telecommunications executive, Mexico

Mexico already has 126 million mobile telephone lines and the government argued that organised crime benefits from anonymous SIM cards to carry out kidnappings, extorsions and other illegal activities.

A director of Telcel Mexico wasn’t convinced, “I don’t think it will help solve crime, what is really missing is the rule of law that promotes reporting and, where appropriate, punishing those responsible. Criminals will still use IP proxies, international numbers, false profiles etc. Therefore, the underlying problem is not being fixed, it is just being masked while putting all Mexicans in a state of vulnerability.”

“I don’t think it will help solve crime, what is really missing is the rule of law that promotes reporting and, where appropriate, punishing those responsible.”

Director, Telcel, Mexico

A Security Director of AT&T in Mexico supported the idea but saw some risks, “All kinds of crimes are committed via mobile phones: extortion, fraud, card cloning, kidnapping etc. This could limit the black market that criminals feed on but there are two issues: Firstly, there will be a dispute between the INE [the electoral organisation] and the federal government over control of the data and secondly there has been quiet lobbying by biometric capture companies to recover a previously proposed identity card project.”

Gabriel Székely, president of Anatel, the Mexican association of telecommunications said that it would be more efficient to track calls to the 089-emergency line rather than setting up a registry. Consumer associations have also warned authorities about the danger of charging innocents for crimes carried out with stolen mobile phones. Other organisations said that specific-case geo-localisation could be more efficient to combat crime. 

The telco operators are reserving their judgement, according to the AT&T director, “We’re analysing the law as it is not clear how it will apply to us. This is one of the reasons why there has not been any public statement – an adverse stance is politically risky in the current climate.” The Telcel director agreed, “The operators have two years to adapt to the rule so they won’t do anything yet, they fear that their concessions will be affected as has happened when other sectors have fought the government.”

“This is one of the reasons why there has not been any public statements [from the operators] – an adverse stance is politically risky in the current climate.”

Director, AT&T, Mexico

Public opinion is less guarded according to the Telcel director, “From the minute it was announced the public were furious. We are also expecting IFETEL [the regulator] and opposition representatives to challenge the new law. It would require a tremendous financial commitment by IFETEL for which they do not have the budget.”

The implementation of the measure is still unclear as a judge recently admitted an appeal from a private user which has suspended the implementation of the registry. Similarly, multiple organisations announced the start of legal actions against the law which approved the measure.  

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