In Mexico Cell Phone Tracking Okay, Metadata Fishing Not So Much

A mixed decision of a panel of the Mexican Supreme Court this week upheld the right of the government to engage in real-time tracking of cell phone users without prior judicial authorization when an imminent threat is at stake, as stipulated by Mexico’s National Security Law. The justices, however, ruled that the extraction of personal metadata from cell phones requires judicial approval based on sound legal reasons.

The ruling ratified a lower court decision, and partially turned back a challenge to provisions of the Federal Radio and Telecommunications Law pursued by the R3D Network in Defense of Digital Rights.

The Mexican non-governmental organization contended that current law, which obliges telecommunications companies to store metadata for up to two years and allow the government access to both personal and historic geolocation information, trampled on individual rights.

The Supreme Court justices determined that government requests for personal information such as name, address and the origin and destination of phone calls, including text and multimedia messages, can only be granted in consideration of Article 16 of the Mexican Constitution with the “previous authorization” of the appropriate judge. The court panel further declared that the delivery of electoral, tax, commercial, civil, labor, administrative, and attorney-client information was not authorized.

In a statement on the Supreme Court decision, the R3D Network noted that the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the preservation of metadata was contrary to the right to privacy, and against international human rights standards.

Though the digital rights activist group praised as a step in the right direction the Supreme Court’s decision that metadata could not be obtained by the government without judicial consent, it called the judgment on permitting the real time identification of a user’s geolocation a contradiction insofar as it “represents a grave risk to the citizenry, especially in a context in which it is not uncommon for authorities to act in complicity with criminal groups in order to attack the citizenry.”

While the full text of the Mexican Supreme Court panel’s decision still has not been published, the R3D Network vowed to sue the Mexican State over the matter in the inter-American human rights system in the coming months.

Additional sources: La Jornada, May 4, 2016.  Article by Jesus Aranda. Proceso/Apro, May 4, 2016.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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