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Mexico: Netizens Speak Out Against Geo-Location Law

On April 18, 2012, a series of reforms popularly known as the “Geo-location Law” began to take effect. The law reforms the Federal Penal Code, the Federal Penal Procedures, the Telecommunications Federal Law, the Minimum Rules about the Social Rehabilitation of Sentenced Criminals and the National System of Public Security General Law.

On Twitter this matter has been discussed by several users under the hashtag #LeyGeolocalización [es] (Geo-location Law)

What are the reforms about?

Given the current administration's war against organized crime, the reforms mentioned above give the investigation authorities (Federal Public Ministry) the faculty to ask for the geo-localization of mobile equipment (smartphones, tablets, cell phones) if they suspect the device is used to commit a crime [1].

The reform also establishes service providers’ obligation to cooperate promptly and without reservations with authorities, not only to locate the mobile equipment but also to give technical support for the installation and operation of devices that block cell phone signals, radio-communication or data transmission (Internet) inside jails.

These reforms aim to prevent or discourage the theft of telecommunication equipment because they give authorities the right to deactivate or block lines that are related to theft or loss.

Image of devices with geo-location systems from Flickr user Chris Fleming, under Creative Commons Licence 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How have Mexicans reacted to these reforms?

Several bloggers wrote about the issue before the reforms took effect. Katya Albiter [es], from Vivir México (Living Mexico), wrote about those who fostered the reforms:

Después de todo, los impulsores de la ley son destacadas figuras de la sociedad civil, como Alejandro Martí, presidente del Sistema de Observación para la Seguridad Ciudadana (S.O.S), e Isabel Miranda de Wallace, presidente de la Asociación Alto al Secuestro, ganadora del Premio Nacional de Derechos Humanos 2010 y aspirante a la jefatura de Gobierno del Distrito Federal por el PAN. Con semejantes credenciales no pueden estar equivocados, ¿no, NO?

Pues mucho me temo que con todo y el argumento de autoridad, esta vez les falló. El problema, como siempre está en las letras chiquitas -es decir algunos párrafos de las reformas-.

After all, the law's sponsors are outstanding figures from the civil society, like Alejandro Martí, President of the Observation System for Citizen Safety (S.O.S.) and Isabel Miranda de Wallace, President of the Stop Kidnapping Association and winner of the National Award for Human Rights in 2010 and PAN's candidate to the mayorship of Mexico City. With such credentials, they can't be wrong, can they?

Well, I'm afraid that even with the argument of authority, this time it failed. The problem, as always, lies in the small print – that is, some paragraphs from the reforms-.

Also, she stated her opinion about the convenience of approving these reforms:

Es una ley con buenas intenciones que, como en todo “superpoder”, sólo sirve en las manos correctas, pero en las equivocadas puede hacer bastante mal. Los defensores arguyen que con esta medida el país vivirá un clima de seguridad y justicia. Al parecer, el costo será la libertad. También los defensores dicen que el que nada debe nada teme y si no quieres que te localicen apaga tu celular. Eso es cierto, si no quieren ser localizados, se apagará el celular y seguramente es algo que ya pensaron justo los secuestradores y demás mafia que se pretende combatir.

It is a law with good intentions that, as in any “super-power”, only works well in the right hands, but in the wrong hands it could be very harmful. The advocates argue that with this measure the country will live in a secure and just climate. Apparently, the cost will be freedom. Also, its supporters say that those who haven't done wrong have nothing to fear and that if you don't want to be located, you should turn off your phone. That is true, if you don't want to be traced you just have to turn off your cell phone, and surely it is something the targeted kidnappers and mobsters already considered.

On the other hand, Jitten [es] for FayerWayer wrote about the scope of this law, highlighting that investigation authorities can ask for the location of  certain devices without a judge's warrant:

En esencia, estas disposiciones legales establecen que las compañías telefónicas deberán proporcionar los datos a la Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) sobre la ubicación de una persona en tiempo real de un aparato asociado en una determinada línea, por lo que en el papel tendría buenas intenciones. Alejandro Martí dijo que “será posible conocer a mediano plazo los resultados de esta reforma, al recabar cifras correspondientes a secuestros y extorsiones en el todo país”.

También contempla que la PGR no solicite una orden judicial sino por “simple oficio o medios electrónicos” todos los datos de geolocalización en tiempo real al concesionario. Si se niega a proporcionar la información a la autoridad judicial, será sancionada con 250 hasta 2,500 días de salario mínimos de multa (alrededor de MXN$155,825).

Essentially, these legal dispositions establish that cell phone companies must provide data to the Republic's Attorney General (PGR) on the location in real time of an equipment related to a certain phone line, which in writing has good intentions. Alejandro Martí said that “it will be possible to know results of this reform in a medium term when we collect data related to kidnappings and extorsions across the country”.

[The reforms] also take into account that the PGR won't have to ask the provider for this geo-location data with a court order, but only with a “simple letter or by electronic media”. If the provider refuses to provide the information, the judicial authority may fine it with a penalty between 250 and 2,500 days of minimum wage salary (aproximately MXN$155,825 or USD$12,000)

Geraldine Juárez [es] in alt1040 talked about the reforms and questioned that, in her opinion, there were no complaints from citizens:

La Ley de Geolocalización es parte de la tendencia legislativa del gobierno mexicano para legalizar la vulneración de los derechos sus ciudadanos. Aprobada gracias a la presión de grupos civiles dirigidos por padres de víctimas de secuestro, Alejandro Martí y la ahora candidata del PAN Isabel Miranda, dicha ley fue aprobada la semana pasada por unanimidad, con 315 votos a favor de parte de los brillantes legisladores mexicanos.

En México no hubo ni una protesta, nadie se quejó y muy pocos fueron los que intentaron difundir la información al respecto, parecería que a los mexicanos les tiene sin cuidado la erosión de sus derechos.

The Geo-Location Law is part of the Mexican government's legislative tendency to legalize the vulneration of its citizens’ rights. Approved thanks to the pressure of civil groups lead by parents of kidnap victims, Alejandro Martí and the current PAN candidate Isabel Miranda, the law passed by unanimity with 315 votes in favor from the brilliant Mexican congressmen.

In Mexico there were no protests, nobody complained and very few tried to spread information regarding [the law]. It looks like Mexicans don't care about the erosion of their rights.

The blog Human Rights Geek [es] hopes the human rights defense organism in Mexico will fight against the reform:

Afortunadamente la Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) puede hacer algo al respecto, puede interponer una Acción de Inconstitucionalidad en contra de estas disposiciones y mandar un claro mensaje a la autoridad de que la erosión de los derechos no es la vía para combatir la delincuencia.

Fortunately, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) can do something about it, it can present an Action of Unconstitutionality against these provisions and send a clear message to the authority that the erosion of rights is not the way to combat crime.

On Twitter, user Osvaldo Suarez (@paul_suco) [es] pointed out that the right to privacy is not considered in the constitutional text:

La Ley de Geolocalización no es inconstitucional por violar la privacidad, ya que dicho derecho no se contempla en la Constitución.

The Geo-Location Law is not unconstitutional because it violates privacy, since this right is not mentioned in the Constitution.

Also, Claudia Guerrero (@clausgr) [es] questioned:

¿debe estar el celular en ‘acción’ haciendo sms, llamadas, tuiteando, para poder aplicar la #LeyGeolocalización ?

What does the implied cell phone have to be doing to be considered in the #LeyGeolocalización (sms, calls, tweeting)?

User @nololeas [es] warned about the validity of the law:

Aguas, entra #LeyStalker y nosotros como si nada. Poco a poco nos van vigilando mas. #LeyGeolocalizacion

Be careful, the #LeyStalker (Stalker Law) is now valid and we didn't even blink. Little by little they are monitoring us more. #LeyGeolocalización

User Eddie (@EdHappy) [es] stated his opinion on the subject in a simple and clear manner:

No me agrada la #LeyGeolocalización

I don't like the #LeyGeolocalización

Mexico's ‘war’ on drugs continues, now with new ‘weapons', and apparently with a lot more dissatisfaction among bloggers and social networks users.

[1] The reform applies only to certain offenses like organized crime, crimes against health (drug trafficking), kidnapping, extorsion and threats.

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