#LeyTelecom endangers Freedom of Speech on the Internet

ContingenteMX, a nonprofit collective consisting of Human Rights, environmental and social network activists and citizens, hereby demands a guarantee that the inalienable right of free Internet access –established on the Constitution- be clearly spelled out in Mexico’s Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law. It also requests that the constitutional citizen initiative “Internet Libre para Todos” (Free Internet For All), signed by over 223 thousand duly identified citizens and delivered to Congress in 2013 as a proposal to guarantee the right of Internet access become law.

Said Federal Law of Telecommunications and Broadcasting initiative as presented by president Enrique Peña Nieto last March 24, does not consider citizens as owners of the right to access information and communication technologies; neither, of freedoms of speech or privacy. Rather, it seeks to perpetuate and exponentially increase the government’s control faculties of control, and entrenched corporate privileges.

On appearance, the document proposed by the Executive presents a vision of information and Communications Technologies that favors social development and the full exercise of our citizen Rights, stating that:

Information Technologies and telecommunications and broadcasting services have become a fundamental instrument for democratic participation, social inclusion and economic development. These tools are essential for flexible and appropriate interaction with our environment and the world, thus making the exercise of our rights and freedoms easier.

In reality, this initiative contains articles that threaten four fundamental principles that preserve a neutral and free Internet:

  1. The guarantee of Internet access, as established by article 6 of Mexico’s Federal Constitution.
  2. The right to Privacy, in the sense that faculties of surveillance are freely granted without official sanction, and user’s personal data is stored.
  3. The right of Freedom of speech, because access could be conceivably blocked to content, appliances and services.
  4. The right of Net neutrality or net universality, which implies that any package, content or technical protocol of information exchange will be discriminated.

A reform on telecommunications, according to the International treaties and human rights recognized on our Constitution, would establish on its first chapter a Bill of Rights of information and communication regarding telecommunications. In the case of the Internet, this Bill of Rights should take the following into account:

  • Right of access and free-of-charge schemes for segments of the population living in under conditions of vulnerability.
  • Strict surveillance limits of on-line activity, and the right of privacy.
  • Freedom of speech and protection against censorship.
  • Non-discrimination and net neutrality.
  • Concrete and verifiable users’ rights and guarantees.
  • The protection and promotion of non-commercial Internet processes.

Although this initiative specifically mentions users and audiences, information and communication technologies have a much deeper dimension regarding the human experience. For this reason, ContingenteMX considers it necessary to reformulate and guarantee citizen’s rights on several realms:

1. Right of access

We demand the adoption of the constitutional citizen initiative guaranteeing free access to the Internet, as signed by more than 223 thousand citizens who duly identified themselves with official ID and submitted to the Mexican Senate on March 5, 2013. It is inexcusable that more than a year has passed without it even being discussed by our Legislative Branch; this country’s very first constitutionally sanctioned citizen initiative won’t be taken into account regarding a matter as crucial as Mexico’s communications.

Beyond guaranteeing access, article 10 of the presidential initiative (see sections 212, 213 and 214, for instance) does not even establish specific rights; its vague and generic content leaves the obligations of universal coverage to governments’ judgment. The disposition of article 186 on public access to Internet spots is particularly grievous, because it opens the possibility of not providing the service in terms of what was disposed on transitory article 14, within the just-passed constitutional reforms.

The model of universal range as a program (not a full-fledged right), altogether with the possibility of public sites on government offices, constitutes an open form of discrimination against the communities that –due to their geographic location- are far too distant from urban centers. Without foreseeing the schemes of free-of-charge access on the vulnerable sectors, the initiative condemns millions of Mexicans to live without access to the Internet’s experience.

2. Surveillance and communication interventions

The chapter of the initiative denominated “of the collaboration with Justice” contains dispositions that leave up to the authorites all control and eventual access of private communications, without recourse to legal counterweights. These faculties in the hands of bureaucrats belonging to each of the 32 state attorney generals’ offices –usually infiltrated by criminals- virtually assure citizenship abuse.

Article 189 of the initiative establishes that telecommunications franchisees, will be obliged to provide real-time geographical localization of any kind of communication device upon the request of security or public servants to which this faculty will be delegated”. This leaves the distinct possibility, for a public servant, to engage in all forms of citizen surveillance without any probable cause or clear legal basis.

Additionally, the initiative doesn’t establish any limits, process, or obligation to elaborate the procedure protocols in order to obtain user information, nor any restrictions to the use and abuse of digitally invasive programs. An autonomous public organ that would conceivably supervise the respect of privacy is not contemplated, either.

Neither does the initiative does mention what kind of treatment the franchisees would provide to personal data that they are specifically obliged to maintain according to this law. Even though there is a Federal Law of Personal Data Protection, this particular legislation is not suitable for the kind of surveillance it envisions.

3. Freedom of speech and censorship.

The initiative contains dispositions that undercut freedom of speech. They would provide state and federal authorities with the faculty to control Internet: an effort by the State that implies losing the experience of a free Internet.

Article 197 is a good example, because it establishes blocking of telecommunications in one or several regions, thus providing the authorities with the faculty to do the following:

To block, interfere or nullify telecommunications signals temporarily, regarding events and places that could be considered critical to public and national security by demand of the corresponding authorities.

In case of peaceful public meetings, marches or manifestations, authorities could be able to use this article as an excuse to block Internet connections within particular areas of citizen involvement, under the argument of “keeping public security”.

4. Net Neutrality

Net neutrality synonymizes the universality of the Net. It is a principle that implies the non-discrimination by kind of package, protocol or content that is put at risk by article 146 which states: “Franchisees and authorized Internet access service providers could make offers according to the needs of the market segments and clients, thus making a difference between levels of capacity, speed and quality”.

As established on the abovementioned article, measures or instructions to guarantee the principle of net neutrality are not established, so the disposition is designed to exclusively benefit the private interests of franchisees and service providers, without any concern to maintain or respect towards diversity.

—-ooo—-

Regarding the statements articulated before, and in accordance with the 13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications’ Surveillance, which constitute a starting point to explain how International Law is applied to human rights on the digital environment, ContingenteMX considers that the dispositions promoted on the initiative of Telecommunications and Broadcasting Bill risk the very future of the Internet as we know it -and its use as an essential tool enabling us communicate, share information, create and organize freely

These failed and arbitrary attempts at total control place us, as citizens, in a position where we could lose our right to Internet freedom within the largest communication environment in History: at the same time, holding back our capacity to build new spaces of empowerment and interaction.

For all of the above, ContingenteMX demands from Congress a meticulous deliberative process that must take into account citizen opinions from every sector; furthermore, that the Pro Persona principle –enshrined by article 1 of our Constutition- be regarded as paramount; finally, that the the 13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications’ Surveillance, and all the rights recognized on our Constitution and International Treaties. be kept and promoted towards a furtherance and blossoming of the Internet experience.

#LeyTelecom reproduces and perpetuates an authoritarian model that only seeks to promote promote government control, crony capitalism and entrenched corporate privileges.

#LeyTelecom does not consider citizens as owners of the right to access information and communication technologies, freedom of speech, and privacy.

#LeyTelecom solely benefits the private interests of service providers, without any effort made to establish full respect towards diversity.

#LeyTelecom is a clear and present risk to the right of freedom of speech, on the greatest communication environment -and potential tool of citizenship- that has ever existed.

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