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Transparency watchdog: Mexico’s new cell phone registry is unconstitutional

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Aside from privacy concerns, critics warn that the new law is likely to result in more cell phone theft. Photo: Courtesy

Mexico’s National Transparency Institute (INAI) says a new law that requires new cell phone users to register with a national database is clearly unconstitutional.

All seven INAI commissioners voted unanimously to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. 

The law seeks to make it more difficult for criminals to acquire “burner phones” commonly used in telephone scams and other illegal activities. 

Critics of the law have pointed out that countries with similar registries have not seen decreases in criminality and have had difficulty keeping the database up-to-date. 

“Creating a database such as this leads to the creation of a black market for stolen or cloned SIM cards. This was certainly the case in Colombia where cell phone theft increased dramatically,” said Colombian activist Lucía Abelenda. 

Other than personal identifiers such as names and addresses, the database will also include biometric data such as fingerprints.

Although the decision taken yesterday is not legally binding, legal experts said that it affirms a strong precedent. 

“We have the enormous responsibility of protecting the rights of people across Mexico. This law goes too far in its scope and it is not hard at all to predict the ways in which it is likely to be abused,” said Inai commissioner Rosendoevgueni Monterrey Chepov.

The transparency watchdog pointed out that the information which the government argues it needs to combat organized crime can already be obtained through court orders. 

Earlier: Women in Mexico turn to social media for protection against violence

“This law erodes civic and privacy rights in a way which is completely disproportional. In essence, it treats everyone as if they were a criminal by serving up their private data to the government,” said commissioner Julieta del Río Venegas.

Members of Mexico’s opposition parties in the Senate have also vowed to challenge the new law and say that they will not rest until it has been struck down. 

This is not the first time that the Mexican government has tried to create such a database.  In 2010 during the Presidency of Felipe Calderon, the federal government implemented a telecommunications registry known as RENAUT. 

Within months, the private information of millions of cellphone users was leaked and allegedly sold by high ranking corrupt officials within the federal government.. No arrests were made in connection to the case. 

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.

Compulsory registration is yet to begin, but President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said earlier last week that an announcement is coming soon.

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