Mexico to fingerprint mobile-phone owners

Mexico's just passed a raft of invasive surveillance rules that require phone companies to get the fingerprints of everyone who buys a phone:
Also Tuesday, the Senate voted to create a registry of cell phone owners to combat kidnappings and extortions in which gangs often use untraceable mobile phones to make ransom demands.

Telecoms would be required to ask purchasers of cell phones or phone memory chips for their names, addresses and fingerprints, and to turn that information over to investigators if requested.

At present, unregulated vendors sell phones and chips for cash from streetside stands. It is unclear how such vendors would be made to comply with the new law.

Mexican congress approves widening police powers (Thanks, Patricio!)


  1. Mexico’s government has gotten extremely aggressive with cracking down on drug trafficking in the country. I think that this is probably the next best step for the to turn up the heat on drug dealers. The Mexican population has appeared to have little problem with the government’s tactics so I doubt they would have issues with this plan.


    1. ealvarez12,

      I’ve suspended your account after three warnings about putting your URL in comments. You may contact Teresa to have it reinstated.

  2. Didn’t they do the same thing in India (for SIM cards because of cell-triggered bombs)?

    Didn’t it not matter one bit?

  3. One of three things will happen:

    1. Mobile phone/SIM card theft will skyrocket
    2. Blackmarket mobile phone/SIM card sales will skyrocket
    3. Mobile phone/SIM cards sales in the Southern US, Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, etc. will skyrocket

    If anyone thinks this will reduce kidnapping, they’re nuts.

  4. Evan this is just more security theather. It will be incredibly easy to circunvent by the traffickers and just a hassle for everybody else.

    There is also another law approved by Congress which has had very little public discussion, which forces the wiretapping of every single cell phone and the storage of the records (by the phone companies) for up to a year.

    Drug violence increased two-fold this year with over 5,000 deaths. The Mexican population wants solutions (there’s even talk of reviving the death penalty), and this is just another panic solution, not a real one.

  5. “Evan this is just more security theater. It will be incredibly easy to circunvent by the traffickers and just a hassle for everybody else.”

    Sounds like gun control. Except substitute “dangerous” for “a hassle’.

  6. This has been already done in Venezuela since at least 2-3 years ago. TO me it is just natural, these days. Buying a prepaid phone in a box without signing any paper or giving away my data is a dream come true, when I come to the US.

  7. MAGGIE gun control doesn’t work very well either… the Brookings Institution estimates that about 2,000 guns travel south across the US-Mexico border every day — btw Mexico does not manufacture guns.

  8. A similar law was passed here in Argentina in July and is due to start being enforced. That is, all new phones will now need a fingerprint associated with them. Then within a 6-18 month time frame, all phones will need to be registered. In part, the law was pushed through on the idea that criminals would be less likely to use phones in crimes (and therefore be less successful). I really believe it’ll be more like what #2 said above and that criminals will be more likely to use stolen phones in crimes.

    I imagine that like most beurocracy and things involving cell carriers here, it will result in failure. Cross-carrier text messages have only a 9/10 chance of arriving.

  9. Not only will it not do a thing to stop drug criminals from using untraceable phones, it will give drug lords another intimidation tool to use when they need to figure out what honest citizens are making trouble for them. Police bribery is rampant in Mexico, anyone who thinks these records won’t be used by drug dealers is hilariously stupid.

  10. Like panes and automobiles, cell phones are not one of human’s greatest inventions. Don’t believe me? Ask a bird. Human beings are overly fond of their contraptions. Anything that we can do to instill some semblence of humility is a good thing.

  11. Like automobiles and areoplanes, cell phones are a misplaced use of human intelligence.

    Don’t like birds?, use a cell phone, ride in a plane and drive a car. All these inventions only serve self centered humans.

    Stupid inventions create more legalistic clutter.

    A world wide infrastructure of human powered monorails is our future friend.

  12. E Alvarez, the present Mexican Gov. barely got elected, IIRC. And did not Mexico come within a whisker of de-criminalizing dope recently?
    But this is a side-effect of the ever-noxious “war on Drugs”, that’s for certain. Horrific side effects, it seems to me…
    That War has hammered privacy in so many ways…oh right there is no right to privacy in the USA.

  13. Don’t like birds?, use a cell phone, ride in a plane and drive a car. All these inventions only serve self centered humans.

    24-hour simultaneous harmonic wisdom, my fragrant foreign friend.

  14. well, this one is out in the open at least and I don’t have too many concerns … as it won’t last. It will be expensive to maintain and once its proved it will have no effect, it’ll probably die a death.

    It’s the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that I worry about.

  15. Every new law in Mexico of this kind is used to spy on citizens and increase corruption, bribery and extortion.
    They recently approved the no smoking law in closed spaces and it just works so the law enforcers can extort and receive bribes from restaurant owners.

  16. It is mostly about the corroding nation state security. They are in trouble around the globe. They will have to merge in the end to a global democracy. They behave no different than your local mafia anyway.

  17. I forgot to say about the Venezuelan law:
    You MUST provide a landline number, if you do not, you cannot buy a cell phone, which is pretty stupid for people that has not a landline. And minors cannot buiy cellphones, when my little brother got one, I had to sign the papers.

  18. Patricio: The guns mexican soldiers carry are Heckler & Koch G3 rifles, manufactured under license by the Secretary of National Defense. They also manufacture a number of small caliber arms te be sold to permit-carrying civilians. This is the only way a mexican civilian can legally purchase a gun. All other legal permits are to legitimize guns aquired in the grey market.

    As for the issue in hand, the mind blowing naivete of mexican lawpassers (calling them “lawmakers” would be an overstatement).

    The logic behind the bill is that, cell phones are being used to commit crimes (extorsions and fraud) thus, registering all cell phone users will stop this crimes.

    The law calls that all cell phone companies are required to bear the expensive burden of registering their users identity, address, and fingerprints, and have them available should national or state attorneys request them (not the cell phone seller, the cell phone carrier)

    Genius. I mean, its not like criminals could find ways to circumvent these restrictions. They could just steal a phone. Or provide a false ID upon registration. Or blackmail innocent people into purchasing phones for them. Or use signal scramblers. Or clone cell numbers.

    Or something as simple as calling from a cell from another company, as mexican cell carriers do not interoperate, and numbers from one company may not appear on the caller id of another company’s set. (nextel, for example, appears as “unknown caller” on all sets, except, of course, those from nextel)

    Or they could simply use a land line.

    It might have been as useful to pass a law that forces cell phone companies to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, which, as a former police person, I can tell you they do not. Cell phone companies are not required to provide call registries or client information to law enforcement without a specific warrant, which can effectively stall or simply stop investigations. And no judge will grant court orders on tiny “they told me to deposit $500 pesos or my niece gets it” fraud investigations.

    To add insult to injury: These fraud calls originate mostly (or so the press claims in mexico) from inside prisions. (I would like to know what kind of call centers these inmates would run. Their efficiency rates should put the indian subcontinent to shame)

    One female mexican inventor patented a device that blocks cell phone signals over a designated area. Well, she has to market her invention somewhere else, because mexican legislation prevents devices that “block telecommunications”

    War on drugs? What war? More people have been executed by the mob in Mexico this year than killed in action in Iraq, from both sides.

    David Germanicci.

  19. Takuan:
    As far as I know, cloning is not huge, but you always can find a shop openly advertised where they can swap your number to other phone, even if it hasn’t a SIM card. And cellphones are stolen pretty much all the time, and there is a huge underground net of second hand phones and plenty of private phone booths where you can anonimyze your calls.

  20. I agree with Germanicci.

    That law will put at risk the common citizen’s personal data. How are they going to acquire this data?. Ink and paper?, digitally?. If so, if it’s on paper it’ll be the precise thing that the criminals who use cellphones will be after, so that they shovel them around the country.

    Electronic?..then it’s hackable and therefore you can copy all that information, use it, sell it, etc.

    So, they’re only creating another black market instead of solving the problem of having easy accessible cellphone and protecting the companies that make and distribute them ( and also creating more garbage in this world from an Environmental point of view).

    The cellphone companies must be the ones responsible for distributing this, and cooperating with the authorities when required. That should be the actual law they should have passed.

    Also, the Mexican government should enforce the mandatory cell checking and completely forbid the use of cellphones in prisons.

  21. The problem with any law, regardless of it being related to alcohol, drugs, driving, cell phones, or what have you is that it by designation MUST restrict freedoms. Law against murder? Well it obviously restricts your freedom to randomly kill people.

    But as with any law, it must be enforceable. The problem with “light” drugs such as weed, is that they are easily available and readily “grown at home”. The law isn’t readily enforceable without snitches on a local level. This directly parallels to cell phones. It’s not enforceable on a local level without the support of local shops. You could even say the same about music pirating if you want. Sure, there’s a law against it, but nobody is going to know if you make an MP3 out of a friend’s CD. Unless you (poorly) distribute, or your friend snitches on you, the RIAA isn’t going to be breaking down your door.

    What we are slowly becoming (globally) isn’t a police state or information state, it’s a state of crappy people filled with petty grievances.

    Take for example, the family that had a problem with the handicapped kid having a pony. If that family had say… an unregistered cell phone instead, THAT would have been the complaint, not the pony.

    REAL criminals will rarely be prosecuted here. They’ll find ways around the laws, just as they find ways around laws like kidnapping, extortion, and murder.

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