This past year, EFF has been on the road, traveling from country to country across Latin America to share our message of freedom to local partners and friends. While we enjoyed the opportunity to talk about our lawsuits against the NSA, as well as the dangers of location tracking and biometric data collection practices, the best part of the trip was learning about all the inspiring advocacy happening everyday on the local level.
We first stopped in Mexico, where we met local advocates and security researchers who courageously fought against the country’s newest data retention law. (For those who are not familiar, last year the Mexican government approved a law compelling telecom providers to retain, for two years, the details of who communicates with whom, for how long, and from where. It also allows authorities access to these details without a court order, exposing geolocation information to reveal the physical whereabouts of Mexicans).
We met the team at Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), a brand new digital rights organization in Mexico City, fighting against the telecom law through swift legal action. R3D alongside a large group of civil society organizations, academics, journalists and human rights advocates filed an amparo action (a legal instrument for the protection of individual rights in Latin American countries) against the surveillance provisions of the telecom law. Others citizen-led initiatives followed suit, encouraging the population to issue their own amparos to protect themselves against the imminent risk posed by the law.
We were also very glad to meet with traditional human rights NGOs and coalitions that have also taken action to request information about what kind of surveillance technologies are presently operating in Mexico. For example, ContingenteMX and Propuesta Civica have been able to track FinFisher, malicious software that is used to disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. They have also requested a verification procedure regarding FinFisher’s presence in Mexico.
This year, street protests have played an important role in Mexico. Several digital rights activists, hackerspaces, journalists, human rights defenders, and student movements active since the 2012 in #YoSoy132, denounced attempts at censorship and surveillance by reclaiming the streets. ARTICLE 19 Mexico also called attention to the criminalization of voices of dissent and of social protest. They launched the “Break the Fear” coalition, made up of alternative media groups and human rights defenders to monitor protest abuses in real time and to guarantee the protection and safety of journalists during high-risk coverage, specially protests and demonstrations.
We were also impressed with the work done by the Hackerspace Rancho Electronico. El Rancho is an open space where people can participate in hacker culture and organize for digital rights. Members of the community were active in both online protests and peaceful marches against the telecom bill. Together with partner organizations Primero de Mayo/Enlace Popular and ContingenteMX, el Rancho organized a “CriptoRally,” a public competition designed to promote cryptography for everyone. Sponsored by the WebWeWant, the CriptoRally was a catalyst for connecting different communities resisting unchecked surveillance. EFF took this as an opportunity to organize a strategic workshop discussing resistance strategies and tactics to fight against the increased surveillance power.
In recent years, Mexico’s public has been overwhelmed by drug-related violence, murders, and disappearances—problems that have left citizens fearing for their safety. The government has opportunistically exploited these fears to launch sophisticated surveillance programs and adopt draconian laws. Mexican civil society faces great challenges in 2015, and EFF plans to continue collaborating with these local groups to tackle these issues.
In our next post, EFF will report on what we learned about the digital freedom struggle travelling through Latin America.