Mexico’s biometric database faces data protection challenge

Mexico’s biometric database faces data protection challenge

Mexico’s controversial new legislation that obliges telecoms firms to collect biometric user data is set to face a Supreme Court challenge from the country’s data protection body.

The National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) will argue that the law, introduced in April, contravenes privacy rights.

The law requires operators such as America Movil and AT&T to collection fingerprint or eye data from customers and submit this to a database managed by the country’s telecoms regulator. Law enforcement would then be able to request access to the database for criminal investigations.

According to Reuters, this is aimed at making it more difficult for consumers to purchase new mobile phones anonymously. The government argues that criminals typically use unregistered pre-paid phones in cases of kidnapping and extortion.

Adrian Alcala, an INAI commissioner, said: "The prosecution of crimes is an issue that should concern us all and the state is responsible for ensuring the safety of the inhabitants, but this cannot and should not be a sufficient reason to restrict freedoms and human rights.”

The Mexico Internet Association has also objected to the law, arguing that a registry of biometric data would be in violation of human rights and would end up costing the industry hundreds of millions of dollars as operators are required to fund the collection of user data.

However, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has hit back at the law’s critics, arguing that the bill is aimed at protecting Mexico’s citizens and noting that it was supported by the Senate this month.

Speaking at a press conference, Obrador accused operators of double standards on data privacy, saying: "These telephone companies…[are] acting with great hypocrisy, because they already request that data to contract a telephone service.”

However, opposition to the bill is mounting. Last week a judge blocked part of the law from coming into force on the grounds that customers who refused to share their data would have their phone lines shut off, thereby putting them at risk.

Globally, 155 countries maintain registries of mobile phone users. According to the GSMA, only 8% of these require biometric data – typically for prepaid SIM card users.

Reuters notes that several of the countries that retain biometric data have poor records on human rights – among them China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Mexico will be the first western country to collect biometric mobile user data.

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