(by Leo Schwartz | Rest of World) – Last December, Mexican lawmakers approved a law that would create a digital identification database — compiling the biometric data of every person living in Mexico — and sent it to the Senate. For Luis Fernando García, the director of the Mexican digital rights organization R3D, the proposal of the Unique Digital Identity Card, also known as CUID, was the latest development in a country that is hurtling down the path of an expansive surveillance state.
His group was among the more than 25 organizations that called on the Senate to halt the program’s implementation. They argued that, if passed, the law would open the door to authoritarian oversight and security risks for Mexico’s residents.
The Mexican government has already instituted measures that infringe on digital personal liberties, from a massive centralized urban surveillance system in Mexico City to proposed legislation that would require citizens to turn over biometric information to have access to a mobile phone. For García and advocates like him, the CUID program represents the culmination of a dangerous trend toward authoritarianism by the Mexican state.
He spoke with Rest of World about the haphazard development of the ID system and why international development agencies like the World Bank are so supportive of its adoption.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did this digital identity card program get started?
Around the world, there is a push by corporations and international institutions such as the World Bank to create these kinds of databases to identify people and conflate two things: the right of every person to be recognized legally by a government and an identification system that intermediates people’s transactions with public and even private services.
In Mexico, there have been several attempts to create a national identity system. There are other identification systems in Mexico, but many of them cost money, so they exclude people. Some of them are just for people over 18 years old.
So why are you opposed to this system?
Now, the CUID program is being held as the only solution, which is not true. It’s more problematic than all of the other identity systems that have been developed in Mexico. When the government creates this one identity system, every time someone goes to a public or private service, they give the same centralized ID. Before, officials would need to go to different places to collect all the information they need. With the CUID, they would have a way to connect all of the databases. This gives the government and corporations the power to surveil, control, manipulate, and punish people.
Who is supporting this program?
Sophisticated intelligence agencies in rich countries are delighted that poor countries are creating these databases of people that they can exploit for their benefit. They have offensive capabilities that allow them to attack, obtain, and collect information that less-developed countries create through these databases.
International relations are not democratic. They are hostile and colonial and extractive and oppressive. Many Global South governments do not realize — or they do realize and just don’t care — that they are building systems that will benefit their oppressors rather than their citizens.
Why do you think there is such an international push to get world governments to collect data on their citizens?
Data is very lucrative. It is particularly useful to train and develop the systems that will define who will rule the future. Where you can make money is where the markets have not reached — where many people are not included financially. Because once they are, companies indebt them; companies can sell them goods on Amazon, and then they can train their AI to take their jobs. There are all these profits that capital is salivating for in the Global South that is helped by these identity systems. Read Full Article >