With the growth of drug cartels in Mexico—established ones and breakaway factions included—a great threat is festering in Mexico and one which is seeing trouble spill over into the United States.
The Mexican government has vowed to win its war against the drug syndicates—a crackdown that has so far yielded mixed results and has been met with violent reprisals.
Not surprisingly, border towns have seen increased surveillance, ranging from “security sweeps” of homes to various biometric security measures designed to regulate the flow of traffic between the United States and Mexico.
But despite these concerns, data mining is still not a buzzword in Mexico and the state has so far safeguarded the privacy concerns of its citizens with fairly strong measures, at least on paper.
The Mexican constitution offers an explicit protection of privacy which includes a complete right over correspondence unless otherwise mentioned in a court order. That is, without written authority, the citizens can expect complete confidentiality in their correspondences.
While there are several laws that provide for protection of personal information in different sectors, the most vital of them all is the landmark Federal Freedom of Information Act passed in 2002.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The FOIA provides protection to personal data collected by the government and has put in place several provisions restricting how the data can be handled.
The law has also resulted in the formation of the federal institute of access to public information, an autonomous body that arbitrates disputes between individuals and public agencies in matters of privacy. The institute provides the platform to request and receive public information from any government agency.
It ensures that information collected by the government cannot be transferred for objectives it was not collected for in the first place.
The institute estimates that there are more than 750 personal information databases controlled by the federal agencies and they are responsible for making it public when an individual seeks information.
The laws and regulations are based on the guidelines of the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development), of which Mexico is a part.
Last year, Mexico also passed the Federal Data Protection Law, which deals mainly with consumer privacy and provides several restrictions on the way consumer information can be handled.
The United States aims to work closely with the Mexican government in helping curtail the drug cartel menace. The Merida Initiative, signed by President George W. Bush, offers wide-ranging support to help Mexico. A part of the aid is earmarked for providing software and hardware that would help centralize data and make data tracking easier. But this offer of support has its fair share of skeptics who are not sure if providing more technological tools to the government for surveillance will help to quell violence or staunch the transborder flow of narcotics.
One of the biggest controversies that erupted in Mexico with respect to data mining happened a few years ago. ChoicePoint, an Atlanta-based data aggregation company, was accused of buying personal information on 65 million Mexican citizens and then selling it to the United States.
The new FOIA law enacted in Mexico specifically prohibits the government from selling any personal information for commerce. More recently, proposed changes in the National Security Law in Mexico would give unparalleled powers to the army and have caused a lot of concern.
Still, Mexico has taken several progressive steps to ensure data privacy. The more difficult question is to what extent these laws will be honored in this climate of fear and the presence of several hotspots of lawlessness within Mexico.
Mexico Data Protection Provisions