Mexico City DiscoTech

This post was written by Mariel of SocialTIC. Thanks, Mariel, for all the awesome work and the follow-up!

The 2012 elections brought political change in Mexico, and it hasn’t been positive in terms of State surveillance. At a time when threats to journalists and human rights defenders continue to increase, several reforms have been pushed in the federal and local congresses to make surveillance of private communications fair game. Behind legalese and political discussions that are anything but transparent, most citizens don’t realize what’s happening.

This is why action is necessary in Mexico: we need to raise awareness on the state of surveillance. And the Surveillance DiscoTech was a step in the right direction.

The DiscoTech in Mexico City began with a workshop on digital security focused on the basic ways individuals can protect their information (or at least make surveillance a much more difficult pursuit). All the participants had the chance to test email and chat clients that enable encryption, and learn the basics about digital security.

After the tech basics were covered, it was time to talk about the changing legal landscape, and about the surveillance projects that rarely make the local media. Luis Fernando García, human rights lawyer that works on freedom of expression and digital rights, talked about the current legislation. Despite the fact that private communications are, in theory, protected by law, government agencies have intervened more and more repeatedly since 2009. Last year, 700 interventions were carried out; this year, we are at 12000 already.

Congresses are passing a lot of reforms that force telecom companies to retain data indefinitely, that grant government offices access to anyone’s communications without a judiciary order, and that justify surveillance by claiming it’s all done in the best interest of those at risk (like human trafficking victims). These modified laws seem to have no checks and balances. The surveillance possibilities that are being granted by law are highly invasive, secret, and will certainly make a lot of money for a few companies.

Jesús Robles Maloof, human rights defender and lawyer, talked about the surveillance projects that rarely make the news: for example, FinFisher, a malware found in Mexican computers and that is believed to have been bought by an agency in the Mexican government. He also posed questions that, after a day of tech training, left all of us with food for thought: should we keep trying to race against the government by becoming better at using technology, or, in fact, is it a race we will lose? Should we focus instead on the main problem, which is to eradicate State surveillance?

Click CC for translation captions
Sasha Costanza-Chock also joined this discussion to talk about his research and the reasons why this DiscoTech was organized and then celebrated in different locations.

The Mexico City DiscoTech saw hands-on learning and discussion among people who are targeted by surveillance. One of the closing remarks came from a human rights defender who decided to share her conclusions on the DiscoTech: having learned about different aspects of surveillance, she would walk away aware of the need to be more mindful of how she uses technologies, no matter what they are or what she’s doing with them.

In our opinion, mission accomplished.

SocialTIC is a non-profit organization that works to promote the use of ICTs for social change in Mexico and Latin America. We work on information-based activism, digital security and data analysis with NGOs, human rights defenders, journalists, local groups and engaged citizens. You can follow us on Twitter.