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A Mexican Public Servant Is Using Periscope to Expose Lawbreakers, but Not Everyone Approves

Arne Sydney Aus den Ruthen Haag

Arne Sydney Aus den Ruthen Haag. Photo from the profile of his public Facebook page.

Mexicans have recently been debating local Mexico City civil servant Arne Sydney Aus den Ruthen Haag‘s use of Periscope to provide evidence of individuals committing low-level infractions, such as traffic violations or violations of the country's Civic Culture Law, which regulates civic behavior. 

Periscope is an application for iOS and Android systems that allows users to share videos, or “scopes”, in real time via Twitter. Other users can then view the transmission on their computers or mobile devices and interact through comments.

Aus den Ruthen is city manager in the Miguel Hidalgo, a borough headed by Xóchitl Gálvez, a 17-year member of the National Action Party, one of Mexico's main political parties. As city manager of the neighborhood, which is home to several luxury residential areas, Aus den Ruthen has taken up the task of walking the streets and recording lawbreaking as he sees it using Periscope.

In November 2015, Aus den Ruthen first made headlines with his Periscope practice in a case that became known as #LadySotelo (Sotelo is the name of a neighborhood) or #LadyBasuras (Lady Garbage). He filmed a woman throwing trash on the street and afterwards trying to harass and intimidate him, boasting that she herself was a public servant. It later turned out that she indeed served in the borough of Tlalpan. She was eventually referred to Civic Court, as required by law.

In February 2016, Aus den Ruthen used Periscope to capture evidence of two teams of bodyguards (called guaruras, a term used in Mexico to denote public or private agents who protect top-level individuals in government or business) allegedly parking their vehicles in pedestrian areas and committing other traffic violations. These vehicles, it should be mentioned, are usually equipped with police and military gear, though it is illegal for private security companies.

One team belonged to businessman Raúl Libien, who is a personal friend of Mexican President Enrique Peña and several members of his team. Libien appeared to try to intimidate Aus den Ruthen a few days later, when in separate incidents, one of Libien’s bodyguards assaulted him and then stole his smartphone as it continued to broadcast through Periscope. Libien afterwards was dubbed #LordMeLaPelas on social networks (Me la pelas is a vulgar expression that means, essentially, “I don’t care.”)

In the same month, Aus den Ruthen published evidence of the bodyguards of Francisco Guzmán Ortiz, the president's chief of staff, committing traffic violations.

The cases stoked debate about the use of Periscope and similar applications by public servants. Fundamental human rights seem to be at the center of the debate: Does it violate the right to the presumption of innocence when someone is captured on film committing an offense? Is it a violation of privacy, of one's right to their own likeness? Is the person who exposes the offender summarily carrying out a punishment of public infamy?

Lawyer and TV host Leopoldo Gómez, who disagrees with the city manager's methods, commented to Mexican news outlet Milenio:

Me preocupa más que una autoridad imponga castigos por encima de la ley. Como ha apuntado la CDHDF [el organismo local encargado de la protección a los derechos humanos], al exhibir públicamente a los infractores, la autoridad vulnera su honra y su imagen. Se crean sanciones adicionales y una “violencia innecesaria”. En el caso del city manager, con buenas intenciones. Pero ¿queremos que los funcionarios puedan imponer sanciones a partir de sus deseos u ocurrencias? En esa lógica se basa el poder autoritario.

I’m mostly concerned about an authority who imposes punishments as if they were above the law. As pointed out by the CDHDF [a local agency that aims to protect human rights within Mexico City], the authority is damaging the honor and the image of the offenders by exposing them publicly. It generates additional sanctions and “unnecessary violence”. In the city manager's case, with good intentions. But do we want government officials to be able to impose sanctions at their own whim and fancy? This logic is based on authoritarian power.

In a short televised debate, Perla Gómez, the head of the CDHDF, said:

Debemos darles seguridad a todas las personas sobre lo que puede o no hacer la autoridad. El uso en vivo, la transmisión en vivo y posteriormente subir a redes la información debe tener esa claridad en ley de que va a convertirse en una forma de inhibición de conducta. El hecho de que sea en vivo [permite que] pueden pasar ‘n’ situaciones. ¿Qué pasa cuando hay un error, cuando transitan personas por ahí, si hay niñas, niños y no se puede difuminar la imagen en ese momento?

We must give assurance to all people about what the authorities can or cannot do. Using live broadcasts and then afterwards uploading them to information networks should be clarified in the law as this is going to become a way of inhibiting behavior. Since it is a live streaming, a lot of unpredictable situations can happen. What happens when a mistake is made, when passersby are filmed or when children are around and their images can’t be blurred in the moment?

The slightly open-ended speech of Perla Gómez contrasts with the fact that, according to reports, her office has three complaints pending against Aus den Ruthen. News site Proceso.mx wrote:

Si bien, señala la CDHDF, de ninguna manera está en contra de que las autoridades cumplan sus deberes, le preocupa que la utilización de herramientas tecnológicas como Pericope, “exhiba a personas que hubieran realizado conductas que probablemente constituían una falta administrativa sin que las autoridades observen las obligaciones que tienen en materia de protección de datos personales, al ser la imagen de una persona un dato personal que la hace identificable por sus rasgos físicos”.

Even though the CDHDF asserts that they are in no way against authorities fulfilling their duties, they are concerned with the use of tech tools like Periscope “showing people who have behaved in ways that probably constitute an administrative offense, without the authorities having to adhere to their obligations to protect personal information, given that a person’s image is a piece of personal information that makes it possible for them to be identified by their physical traits”.

Regarding the CDHDF's decision, the city manager responded:

Priorities according to the @CDHDF
1. The “honor” of an offender or criminal recorded IN FLAGRANTE
2. Your rights
3. Respect for the law

Public relations and communications specialist Gabriel Guerra defended the use of Periscope to publicize offenders:

La prepotencia, el desacato y la impunidad no hacen caso de la amable indicación de la autoridad. Se requiere de la voz ciudadana, de la denuncia pública, del escarnio para que cambien sus conductas. En cualquier sociedad civilizada, el escándalo se centraría en quien viola la ley descaradamente y no en quien lo exhibe. Aquí confundimos el debate.

Arrogance, contempt, and impunity will not heed polite orders from authorities. It requires the voice of the citizen, public denunciation, and ridicule for them to change their behavior. In any civilized society, the scandal should center on those who brazenly violate the law and not the one who exposes them. Here is where the debate gets muddled.

On Twitter, I asked lawyer Rodolfo Herrera Moro what he thought of the use of Periscope in cases like those mentioned above:

@tadeo_rc's tweet: Hello @herreramoro: using Periscope to expose administrative lawbreakers, in favor or against? Greetings.

@herreramoro's tweet: I’m in favor! The root of our problem is that corruption and illegality are socially accepted. Periscope encourages a change in mindset.

While marketing specialist Raúl Morales answered:

@tadeo_rc's tweet: Hey @ElDonRaul: using Periscope to expose administrative lawbreakers, in favor or against?

@ElDonRaul's tweet: That is to say, if recording is legal, then documenting the offense is too. Ever since it's been possible to do, the media has done it.

In response to CDHDF asserting that using Periscope as such could violate the protection of personal information, Twitter user Shiva noted that the administration of Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera films people in the streets using traffic cameras:

If we’re following the logic of the @CDHDF then @ManceraMiguelMX is violating my rights by recording me with cameras #SafeCity @XochitlGalvez

Engineering student Juan Rafael expressed his support for the city manager:

I declare myself an official admirer of Mr. Arne Aus den Ruthen.

Meanwhile, others have used foul language to voice their desire to assault him:

I feel like kicking Arne Aus den Ruthen’s ass.

As things currently stand, a significant number of Mexicans, who are accustomed to abusing their influence and living a lifestyle characterized by arrogance, don't pay much regard to laws and regulations that stand in their way. Indubitably, authorities should wield the tools they have at their disposal to enforce the law, but without violating fundamental rights or committing acts that could be construed as illegal. The issue is of no small significance and calls at least for a sincere deliberation on human rights.

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