In an effort to catch criminals and kidnappers, Mexico plans to start a national register of all mobile phone users. Under a new law published today, mobile phone companies will have a year to build up a database of their customers, complete with fingerprints. The law is due to be in force in April.
Sadly, hundreds of people are kidnapped in Mexico each year. As the army cracks down on drug gangs, these gangs are increasingly using kidnappings as a source of income, causing the number of kidnappings to increase. The idea behind the law is to match calls and messages with the owner of a phone.
According to lawmakers who pushed the bill through Congress last year, there are about 700 criminal bands in Mexico. Some of these bands are operating from prison cells and using cell phones to obtain ransom payments.
The majority of Mexico's 80 million mobile phones are prepaid handsets with a preset number of minutes. These phones and additional minutes can be purchased without any identification, making them ideal for criminal activities and other users who want to hide their identity.
As a result of the register, all new subscribers will be fingerprinted when they purchase a new handset or phone contract. In addition, the law requires operators to keep copies of all cell phone information, including call logs, text messages, and voice messages for one year. This information on users and calls will be private, and will only be available with court approval for the purpose of tracking criminals.
Should an individual’s phone become lost or stolen, the user is required to report it immediately or risk being held responsible for a handset used in a crime. There’s no word yet on whether or not the government will help with the costs associated of creating the register.