Mexico’s Senate has approved a new law that requires new cell phone users to register with a national database.
The law intends to make it more difficult for criminals to acquire “burner phones” commonly used in telephone scams and other illicit activities.
Other than personal identifiers such as names and addresses, the database will also include biometric data such as fingerprints.
But critics of the move say that the new database gives the federal government too much power over citizens’ private data.
“We all want to fight crime and corruption, but we can’t do it at the expense of citizens’ rights,” said Congresswoman Martha Tagle.
There is also a concern that the federal government may use the data it collects for political or electoral motives.
These fears are not unfounded. A 2017 investigation conducted by several Mexican NGOs and a Canadian tech lab revealed that the Mexican government illegally targeted the mobile phones of journalists, lawyers, and activists to spy on them.
“This is an important move for our country in the battle against criminality. I understand the concerns, but law-abiding citizens can feel secure in the knowledge that this information will be used in a wise manner,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Telecommunication companies such as America Movil and AT&T say that the law goes too far, but that they will obey the new ordinances once the law comes into effect.
During the presidency of Felipe Calderon, a similar move was attempted. But the database was discontinued after it was discovered that the personal data of citizens was being sold to third parties.
Under the new law, people who fail to register their data will automatically lose connectivity within 30 days and be subject to a fine of 89,692 pesos.
A group of opposition Senators has said that they will challenge the constitutionality of the new law in the Supreme Court to avoid its implementation.