Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mexico Passes Controversial Telecom Reform Bill

Lawmakers in Mexico’s lower house gave general approval to reforms to the country’s telecommunications sector yesterday, and the entirety of the bill is likely to pass without any major amendments. While much of the coverage of the measure has focused on whether it will break up the country’s media monopolies, there are also questions about its potential to limit net neutrality and pave the way for surveillance abuse.

Among the most contentious elements of the law is the fact that it requires telecom companies to store users’ personal communications information and GPS data for up to two years, as Animal Politico reports. What’s more, it allows security and intelligence officials to have access to this information if requested, without first receiving a court order or working through any kind of judicial mechanism.

Articulo 19 activists Miguel Guevara and Lucia Vergara paint a very dire picture of how civil society advocacy in Mexico could be affected by this in the future, and how the law leaves journalists and government critics vulnerable to attacks. As they point out, all it would take for corrupt officials to have access to their targets’ personal information -- including their web history, email records and even real-time location -- would be the right connections.

The bill also authorizes internet service providers to charge for varying connection quality and speeds, a move that digital rights activists in the country say would create a more tiered system of internet access and violate the principle of net neutrality.

All the above, as well as other concerns about ensuring media plurality and preventing censorship, were included in an 18-point letter signed by 151 Mexican NGOs and presented last week to Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

News Briefs
  • Just as the bill was passed yesterday, Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim signaled that he would break up his America Movil empire, reducing his market share of landline and mobile phone service to below 50 percent. As Bloomberg, the FT and Reuters report, the move is widely being interpreted as a bow to regulatory pressure, though the specifics of the breakup have not been released.
  • Ever since Mexican security forces announced that 22 alleged cartel members has been killed in a June 30 shootout that left only one soldier wounded, rumors have swirled that the victims -- 21 men and one women -- were actually executed at the scene by soldiers.  The AP reports this morning that a visit to the site of the incident “showed little evidence of sustained fighting.” Mexican  security analyst Alejandro Hope writes that the incident raises questions about proportionality of the use of force by Mexican troops, and whether they are actually abiding by their own rules of engagement in fighting organized crime.
  • The State Department has announced the end of a widely-criticized program that involved flying an aircraft broadcasting anti-Castro propaganda over the island, which had been completely neutralized by the Cuban government, Foreign Policy reports.
  • Gustavo Gorriti, director of Peru’s IDL-Reporteros, reports on a little-known fact about Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren: that during his time as an FMLN guerrilla leader, he briefly employed Lori Berenson -- the American who later served more than 15 years in prison in Peru for aiding MRTA  rebels -- as a secretary on his staff. In an interview with Gorriti, Berenson describes her respect for Sanchez Ceren for maintaining a well-regarded image over the years.
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala signed a law that seeks to overhaul the country’s flagging education system yesterday. El Comercio reports that one of the most controversial elements of the measure was its creation of a semigovernmental body tasked with supervising the quality of universities and allocating education resources, which critics saw as an attack on the traditional autonomy of universities in the country. However, supporters like Education Minister Jaime Saavedra point out that the law does not give the state any authority to regulate or dictate educational content.
  • BBC Mundo reflects on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s ability to combine leftist ideology with pragmatic economic policies compared to other ALBA bloc nations, even while doing so has earned him critics on the left.
  • The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD) has released the English version of a May report which provided a useful roundup of drug policy throughout Latin America. The study, “In Search of Rights: Drug Users and State Responses in Latin America,” looks at official responses to small-scale drug possession and use in eight countries in the region: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. Perhaps their most interesting finding is that even in countries where drug use is not a criminal offense (Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and Bolivia), possession accounts for a large portion of overall drug-related detentions.