One thing is to browse the networks in a freely chaotic way in search of those places where we haven’t been before or to encounter people, ideas and new conversations; and other very different thing is trying to browse a labyrinth with access doors to all the information and Communications, kept by a public servant. Enrique Peña Nieto seeks this last thing for Internet’s future, as stated on the reform to the Federal Telecommunications’ Law.
At 03:25 hours of March 5, the website 1dmx.org was reestablished after three months of censorship. On December 2 (2013) the hosting enterprise GoDaddy took down the website by petition of an especial agent of Homeland Security Investigations assigned to United Estates’ Embassy in Mexico. How do we explain those three months of censorship in the most pure Iran or China’s style?
Paraphrasing the former governor of Veracruz, Fidel Herrera Beltrán, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has spent 85 years at the height of its “fucking power”. After 12 years of absence at the federal government, the PRI has regained the control of political decisions in Mexico. No institution would get that old without adapting its objectives. The key is not in adopting radical changes in politic methods, but to adapt them to the actual circumstances. Media control and censorship of the critical voices have been the center of PRI’s strategy to close the deal around freedom of speech.
Since 1994 EZLN made Internet an alternative politic field and hit prism by spreading their ideas all around the globe. Therefore, according to digital activism history, the Zapatistas gave the first lesson to the rest of the world. To the rest of the citizenship, with a few exceptions, understanding Internet’s ability to change things became hard.
The change of the century brought panists to the presidential chair. Network access grew for about 40% of the population. In 2005 and 2006, AMLO’s movement took internet as an alternative space in the siege that was imposed to them after the so called election; being Radio AMLO and “Sendero del Peje” (Peje’s path) some of the platforms that opened a gap in that period.
Felipe Calderon’s years were those of “war against the drugs” and the reinforcement of a police state. “Terrorist Twitter users” were chased down for spreading violence alerts on Veracruz, and even jokes made Mario Flores a day detained by the PGR. Social networks constituted new “escape vaults” to dissident opinions that bothered governments of any color. If, with the PAN the repressive acts against Internet users were product of reactions to specific circumstances. With the PRI back in power, censorship “professionalism” would come.
In 2009, the institutional revolutionaries constituted the National Cybernaut Movementdefined as: “A cybernaut organization from PRI’s CEN. Our challenge is to achieve a society that would be informed, involved and synchronized. We produce CYBERVOLUNTEERS”. Synchronized?
During the 2012 presidential campaign a powerful students movement againts Peña was born in internet, #YoSoy132. After that scandals about bought Facebook likes and armies of food-paid users called “activists” -that generated false opinions online- for PRI came through. The deal was closed with a millionaire and complex operation with Twitter bots, called “Peñabots”, that supported the campaign’s accounts and –at the end of it- were focused on censoring and kidnappingopposition’s hashtags. A study made by John Pail Verkamp and Miaxi Gupta from the School of Informatics and Computing of Indiana University, recently showed that in China, Mexico, Siria and Rusia have been using bots massively to drown dissident voices. In China and here. In spite of this strategy, many analysis show that Peña Nieto lost the battle against Internet, including social media.
The post-electoral period and his first year of government have been characterized by an almost viral pile of legislative proposals to drown dissidence on the streets. Amongst these, the reforms on article 362 of D.F.’s Penal Code, the Antiprotest Law and the National Code of Penitentiary Proceduresat the Federal Congress, Jalisco’s Law on Manifestations, Quintana Roo’s Ley Borge and recently San Luis Potosí’s Law on Public Manifestations.
The digital face of this strategy has been the detention and torture of three digital activistsbefore May 5 in Puebla, the to-the-date censorship on the blog of Martiza Díaz (Peña Nieto’s former partner), the scandal on how government surveills us through the use of spyware such as FinFisher, the constant persistence trying to punish “politician defamation on social networks” at Nuevo León, the unfair imprisonment of Gustavo Maldonado, the threats to Alberto Escorcia –@YoSoyRed collaborator-, the attack to SinEmbargo.mx and the e-mail accounts of Lydia Cacho.
I faced the last of these episodes directly. Weeks before December 1st , 2013 I was invited to write an article for the redesigned 1Dmx.org’s website. I wrote on dissidence and its contribution to real democracy. The texts and other materials, such as videos, and the platform to generate evidence of the abuse, just lasted a few days online.
An injunction was filed against that decision under the assumption that the Embassy didn’t act on its own. The site was censored until the young people from 1Dmx decided to make the censorship public. As it was expected, authorities washed off their hands even though the investigation continues.
The reaction became the good news. Citizenship made a stand. Joined together with organizations around the world, digital activist group ContingenteMx sent a document to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requesting the subject of surveillance on U.E. and other countries to be dealt with. ContingenteMx also urged Mexican government to support OAS’ joint declaration on Internet and launched a campaign promoting the 13 Pinciples on surveillance at Internet’s era.
Another civilian organization called Propuesta Cívica (civilian proposal) demanded an explanation to government’s purchase of Internet surveillance software to the IFAI (Federal Institute of Access to Information). The collective Internet para Todos(Internet For All) achieved the inclusion of Internet access as a constitutional right and the fight to influence on Telecommunications’’ Reform. Campaigns as Yo amo Internet (I Love Internet) and Internet Libre (Free Internet) seek to raise awareness on the importance of experience at an open Internet.
Bad news is that we face, since some days ago, an even bigger challenge. The initiative on the reform to the Federal Law on Telecommunications presented by Peña Nieto is, openly, a risk to freedom on Internet. The reasons, on a first analysis, are these:
1. People and their rights, to the corner. (Centrality of rights)
It is a law that revolves around authorities and enterprises of the sector, and mentions timidly –at the last articles- the people and their rights as users. We should count on a law centered on people’s rights, with authorities’ obligations to guarantee them within a proper regulation frame for the enterprises.
2. Why having universal coverage, if we’ve been fed with soap operas? (Access guarantee)
Without established rights, there is no specification on how a larger Internet access will be fulfilled, above all for those who have the least. Its clear that, facing the chapter of universal coverage, everything turns to rhetoric and only general and vague government’s obligations on plan making are established.
No free-of-charge schemes are established for those who have the least and it leaves to the authorities’ judgment the establishment of public spaces with Internet access. When we asked for Internet schemes for vulnerable sectors, we were mark down as populists. Peña Nieto now seeks to give away 14 million digital TV screens controlled by the Social Development Secretary’s Office SEDESOL.
3. Internet as extended television commercials.
Article 146. The licensees and authorized ones that offer Internet access services could make offers according to the necessities of the market segments and clients, distinguishing between capacity levels, speed and quality. (Capacity?)
Protections for Internet users are not contemplated and, on the contrary, fundamental rights for creation and generation of knowledge’s processes –as sharing ideas, which constitutes the basis of Internet development– are risked.
4. The digital tray
On the matter of surveillance and intervention of communications, the initiative works as the old police officer’s trays in the article 189:
“Telecommunications’ licensees -and, on the given case, the authorized ones- are compelled to provide real-time geographic localization of any kind of communication device on request of the principals of security departments or public servers who own that faculty ”.
The point in this case is that its not only the federal authorities, but the federal attorney’s offices –most of them co-opted by organized crime- will have that faculty. The single thought of that “digital tray” being handled to anyone, constitutes a horror movie.
5. We say what is legal and when you won’t be able to browse.
Internet providers are turned into policemen, because they will be able to block access to certain contents, apps or services on request of the user, when there is an authority’s order or if they are against any regulation (article 145). And, even though liberty of content election is established, this will be possible according to the “Law’s framework” or whenever it “is legal”; as it shows, due to these dispositions, law interpretations are determined by governments and not judges, as it happens in most democracies.
6. For your sake I can turn the switch down. (Internet block)
Reaching this point, Peña Nieto went ambitious. Why not blocking the Internet whenever I want to? But, then again, just for your own good. According to the article 197 of the proposal, authorities will be able to:
Block, inhibit or nullify telecommunication signals temporarily during critical events on given places to keep national and public security on request of the corresponding authorities.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” I like this piece of writing because I remember it everyday.
I understand that Peña Nieto could be bothered because of people talking about him, people criticizing him, people making memes or blogs to mock him; journalists spreading his monkey business and activist denouncing abuse. I understand. But, given that Internet can –as a tool- transform the conditions of injustice and extend the field of conscience, Peña Nieto’s plan is plain simple: Take control through technocracy.
I don’t know about you… At leas I prefer that people say anything they want to, that people look into stuff and teach others, that people laugh and have fun, that people surf through that beautifully chaotic sea of knowledge and conversations that is the Internet.
I don’t like labyrinths, I like them even less when they’ve got their lights turned off and are locked up with keys that lay on authoritarian pockets.