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More phone extortions? This is one of the risks of creating a Mobile Phone Registry

The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) will review this Monday the project of Minister Norma Piña Hernández who proposes to declare the total invalidity of the decree that creates the National Register of Mobile Telephony Users (Panaut).

The register entered into force on April 16, 2021 after the publication of the reform to the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law in the Official Gazette of the Federation ; however, its implementation was stopped after several instances promoted actions of unconstitutionality.

The National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) did so in May 2021. The IFT also took another action of unconstitutionality by arguing that creating a Telephone Registry contravenes its regulatory powers, which is provide access to telecommunications services.

The SCJN granted a provisional suspension to the IFT for not carrying out the necessary measures to create the Telephone Register. But the federal government, through the Legal Department of the Presidency of the Republic, challenged the suspension after the precautionary measures against the Panaut paralyzed the necessary actions so that the IFT had to comply with the installation and operation of the registry.

For Minister Piña Hernández, the Panaut will affect the privacy of user data, since the project does not have an impact assessment on the protection of consumer information. “Not having complied with this requirement subjects the rights to privacy, intimacy and protection of personal data to a risk that cannot be guaranteed,” the minister states in the project.

What is the Panaut?

Mario Delgado, deputy for Morena, presented in December 2020 an initiative in the Chamber of Deputies to create the National Register of Mobile Telephony Users (Panaut). The reform project to the Federal Telecommunications Law was approved by the lower house on December 10 of the same year with 392 votes in favor, 44 against and nine abstentions.

On April 13, 2021, the Senate generally approved the creation of the registry, with the aim of collecting data from all people who have a mobile phone line, including the collection of biometric data.

What personal data will the Panaut have?

In the event that the reform to the Federal Telecommunications Law that gave way to the creation of the Panaut is not declared unconstitutional, the owner of the line must register biometric data such as fingerprints, facial and iris recognition, Unique Population Registry key (CURP) , indicate if the line was contracted in the prepaid or postpaid mode and provide data on nationality in case of being a foreigner. Users who oppose giving such information will see their mobile phone lines automatically cancelled .

The invalidation of the Panaut by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation would guarantee the protection of the information of 129.8 million users who currently have a telephone line.

What risks are there with the Panaut?

The main concern about Panaut is that it will become the extinct National Registry of Telecommunications Users (Renaut) , whose telephone registry came to light during the administration of Felipe Calderón. With Renaut, extortion increased 40% , since user data was sold on the black market for 500 pesos. The Registry was deleted in 2011.

In addition, it is feared that the Panaut will become a new market for SIM card trafficking for organized crime, since they will be able to import them from the United States, where this standard does not exist.

The initiative to create the Panaut prompted civil organizations, such as the Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D), the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT), the INAI and the users themselves to take legal action to prevent the development of a database consumer data.

The civil organization R3D created a platform so that citizens could generate an amparo claim to defend themselves against the Panaut, which managed to document around 3,000 claims. “But every day they notify us more. It’s a pretty unusual thing. Normally, in a matter of days after the claim is filed, we are notified of the admission or rejection. We are almost a year after the filing of the lawsuits and we continue to receive notifications. Around 15,000 demands were downloaded from the platform, but it is uncertain how many were submitted,” says Luis Fernando García, general director of R3D.

Who will create and watch over the Panaut?

If it is not declared unconstitutional, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT) must create and manage the Telephone Register. Telcel, AT&T, Telefónica , the Virtual Mobile Operators (MVNO) and even the small concessionaires will be obliged to generate a database with the information of all their users, which they must subsequently deliver to the telecommunications regulatory body.

According to the IFT, creating the Panaut will require a budget of more than 109 million pesos during the first year of its creation, while for subsequent years – subtracting the initial investments – it will need 88 million pesos. However, the Institute is not technically or financially empowered to create a registry.

Telephone operators such as Telcel, AT&T or Telefónica will be subject to fines ranging from 1,792 to 4,481 pesos for extemporaneously registering telephone lines. While for not registering a telephone line or for not updating the Register, companies must pay from 44,810 pesos to 89,620 pesos.

For making improper use of the database, the companies would be sanctioned by 896,200 pesos up to 1,344,300 pesos.

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