Netizen Report: Mexico Considers Controversial Telecom Reforms

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto

Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Sarah Myers, Bojan Perkov, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sonia Roubini contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week’s report begins in Mexico, where President Enrique Peña Nieto is pushing to pass major telecommunications reforms that for many harken back the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s authoritarian past.

Billed as an effort to break up Mexico’s notorious telecommunications and broadcast monopolies, the law covers a broad range of electronic communications issues [link in Spanish]. At the behest of the “competent” authorities, the law authorizes telecommunications companies to “block, inhibit, or eliminate” communications services “at critical moments for public and national security.” The law also authorizes Internet service providers to offer service packages that “respond to market demands” and differentiate in “capacity, speed, and quality”—a measure that could harm net neutrality in the country. To top it off, security measures in the law would allow authorities to track user activity in real time using geolocation tools, without obtaining prior court approval.

ContingenteMx, a local digital rights group, has issued multiple statements against the bill and has called for public consultations on the matter. In a recent post [link in Spanish] for the group, Jacobo Najera notes that just over a year ago, Mexico’s Senate officially accepted a petition with more than 200,000 signatures [link in Spanish] in support of the country’s proposed law on the right to Internet access. The text of the law (again, in Spanish) can be found here.

Surveillance: Costa Rica—come for the rainforest, stay for the press freedom?
Costa Rica’s Supreme Court censured
the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) for its surveillance of Diario Extra journalist Manuel Estrada. In an effort to identify sources Estrada had used for an investigative story on the OIJ, the prosecutor’s office had allowed the OIJ to record his phone calls. The presiding judge indicated that like “traditional” journalists, citizen journalists (identified as those who “regularly contribute” to reporting or public opinion) also deserved to be shielded from prosecutorial abuses of surveillance.

Thuggery: Bangladeshi teenagers jailed over Facebook posts.
Two teenage bloggers in Bangladesh were arrested
for allegedly posting “derogatory comments against Islam and Prophet Mohammad” on their Facebook accounts. Fellow bloggers allege that a local Islamic fundamentalist group had circulated false propaganda about the two boys, who were attacked by a mob outside the school and subsequently arrested. Both bloggers are currently in prison under the country’s recently amended ICT Act.

Free Expression: Civil conflict brings communications shutdowns in northern Nigeria.
Caught amid a struggle between the Nigerian army and militant fundamentalist group Boko Haram, residents of northern Nigeria have had to endure the destruction of telecom infrastructure (reportedly by insurgents) for nearly a year. Last month, they faced a communications shutdown in the state of Borno, the result of what an army spokesperson described as a counter attack strategy against Boko Haram.

In 2013, residents of northern states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe filed a lawsuit against the government, four telcos, and the Nigerian Communications Commission for violating their right to communicate.

In response to allegations of government corruption circulating online, Turkish authorities blocked YouTube last week, after blocking Twitter several days prior. Google reported that most Turkish ISPs had “set up servers that masquerade as Google’s DNS service,” thwarting attempts by Turkish netizens to circumvent the ban.

While Prime Minister Erdogan has long been critical of social media, these particularly harsh censorship measures came in the days leading up to national elections on March 30. Shortly after his Justice and Development party claimed victory, Erdogan vowed to make his political enemies “pay the price.”

Privacy: Money, ID cards, and thumbprints—the new price of a SIM card in Balochistan.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority announced that in order to sell SIM cards in Sindh and Balochistan (two provinces rattled by separatist violence), vendors must use the Biometric SIM Verification System, which matches a prospective buyer’s thumbprint and identity card to his or her record in the government’s database. Meanwhile, Pakistani telcos worry that this will deter purchases and potentially drive criminals to neighboring provinces.

UFC-Que Choisir (“what to choose”), a French consumer protection watchdog, filed a lawsuit and launched a campaign [link in French] against Facebook, Google, and Twitter for “abusive” and “illegal” data privacy practices and for failing to modify their privacy policies. In a statement, it accused the companies of shirking responsibility: “If the social media networks are particularly greedy in terms of data, they are dieting when it comes to responsibility.”

Internet Insecurity: Pakistan’s crime prevention law overreaches, say rights advocates.
Draft legislation prepared by Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications would criminalize illegal access to and interference with programs, data or information systems, electronic fraud, and unauthorized interception of communication, among other things. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of Pakistan 2014 is currently being prepared for presentation before Pakistan’s Parliament. Advocacy groups including Digital Rights Foundation and Article 19 have issued detailed criticism of the bill.

Netizen Activism: Russian activists thwart censorship with mirrors, kittens
In response to blocks
on a number of opposition websites by Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor, free speech activists have found a way to bypass online censorship and start counter-attacks by deploying a network of mirrors of the blocked site, and using sites featuring harmless content such as cat photos as decoys.

Cool Things
April 4 will mark 404 Day, a day of action to call attention to Internet censorship in public libraries and public schools in the United States.

Publications and Studies