The Mexican Supreme Court has rejected a new law that would have forced the country’s mobile operators to collect the biometric data of everyone signing up for a mobile number. The country’s Senate passed the law in April of 2021, but the creation of the national registry was suspended in response to legal challenges from mobile carriers and the IFT, which is the regulatory body for the telecoms industry in Mexico.
According to the Mexican justices, the new law was disproportionate to its intended purpose, and was therefore an overly invasive solution that would have compromised the civil liberties of Mexican civilians. The law was supposed to make it harder for criminals to obtain anonymous mobile numbers, which in theory would have helped reduce the country’s extremely high rate of kidnapping and other forms of crime. However, the justices believe that the law would have violated the principles of data minimization and the right to privacy in a democratic society, especially since the police would have had access to the Panaut biometric registry.
The IFT would have been responsible for maintaining the Panaut database though the mobile operators would have been responsible for collecting biometric data at the point of sale. The Mexico Internet Association has estimated that the implementation of such a collection system would have carried a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars for those mobile operators. The data would have been submitted to the IFT once it had been gathered.
The government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had supported the new law, though all 11 members of the Supreme Court voted to invalidate at least part of the law, and nine ruled that it was fully unconstitutional. The bill would have registered customers with either face or iris biometrics.
The Supreme Court’s decision breaks with a trend seen elsewhere in the world, where biometric mobile registration has become an increasingly popular crime prevention strategy. Nigeria just cut off 73 million mobile lines for failing to comply with a law that requires SIM Cards to be linked to a National Identity Number, and South Africa has published a similar bill in draft form. Pakistan also asks people to submit fingerprint data when registering for a mobile number, though the integrity of the country’s system has been called into question in light of news about spoofing and fraud schemes in the past few months. Most of Mexico’s more than 120 million mobile lines are delivered through the use of pre-paid SIM cards.
April 26, 2022 – by Eric Weiss