Fingerprints to use a phone number in Mexico?

The Mexican Senate approved an amendment enforcing people to register their biometrics for using a mobile phone. The goal is to reduce kidnapping and extortions.

Biometrics to use or buy a mobile phone number

On April 16, 2021, the Mexican Senate approved an amendment enforcing Mexicans to provide personal data in order to use a mobile phone number.

Three days after the creation of a data census, a National Registry of Mobile Phone Users or “Padrón Nacional de Usuarios de Telefonía Móvil“, the Senate detailed the data indivuals should provide to telecom operators.

The registry would contain information about the users’ identity such as their address or nationality. But the decree also mentions a more controversial requirement: “biometric data of the user“.

The text doesn’t specify which biometrics should be collected. The biometric unique identifiers could include fingerprint, palm veins, face recognition, or even DNA. The companies may eventually “exchange information with the competent authorities” in the matter of security and justice related to criminal activities.

So, in order to use a mobile phone, a Mexican may now need to give fingerprints before calling a relative, although it is not yet defined how telecom service providers would collect and transmit such data.

Mexicans will need to give biomectric data to use a mobile phone number
Mexicans will need to give biomectric data to use a mobile phone number | Jonas Leupe

Fight against kidnapping and extortion

In reaction to the amendment, the National Institute for Transparency, Information Access and Personal Data Protection warned that “collection of biometrics should be as limited as possible” because any “vulnerability to biometric data can lead to significant and sometimes irreparable damages“.

Failing to register a mobile phone number can lead to a fine between $280 and $560 USD.

According to the authorities, the broader objective is to “stop crimes such as extortion and kidnapping that, in many cases, are committed with the use of cell phones“.

The President of the Transport and Telecommunication Commission, Lucía Meza Guzmán, stated that 89% of the extortions were conducted via phone in 2019. Moreover, these activities generate $600 million USD to organized crime every year. The registry would aim at more easily identifying a crime, the perpetrators and instantly suspending communications.

Concerns about privacy and doubts on efficiency

Opponents to the bill call for respecting privacy of sensitive personal data and doubt its efficiency.

R3D, a Mexican organization defending digital rights, worries about the consequences of a data repository for innocent people “given the ease with which a telephone number can be spoofed and the vulnerability of the records“.

In 2009, a similar data repository, without biometry, was put in place in Mexico to regulate crime. Two years later, “RENAUT” was dismissed because of its inefficiency and replaced by the geolocalisation of the mobile devices. Less than 2 months after the law was passed, the dataset was available to be bought online.

As reported by La Jornada, 18 countries around the world require biometrics to get a SIM card, and include China, Singapore, or Peru.

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