Between a malfunctioning website, a poorly received anti-sexting campaign and serious allegations of corruption, Mexico’s new public transparency agency has seen nothing but stormy skies since its official launch in May 2015.
When the constitutional reform regarding access to public information in Mexico entered into force, everyone knew the implementation process would not be smooth. Since its creation up until today, issues continue surrounding the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data, the new watchdog of transparency and protection of personal information (privacy) in the country, known informally as INAI.
The right to access public information in Mexico has been fomented and safeguarded since 2002 when a citizen body (known as IFAI) was created to facilitate citizen access to public data through a semi-autonomous agency. But this was formally dissolved when the new reform began and was substituted by the INAI, which eventually emerged with a new line-up of seven commissioners, originating mainly from the political class.
Like its predecessor, the INAI serves as a protector of the fundamental rights included in its name, promoting public knowledge of those rights and also acting as an authority to resolve disputes that arise, for example between a person requesting access to public information and a governmental office refusing that access.
The dysfuntional transparency platform
In May 2016, we reported on the new tool launched by the INAI to allow for any person to access available government information or request information that was not previously available. The intention was that anyone (regardless if they are a Mexican citizen or not) could access government information online, from basic information such as salaries and benefits of public servants, to current and relevant documents such as those related to the investigation of the case of 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa.
Shortly after the new system went online, users and experts pointed to a number of flaws in the platform that seriously hindered transparency. Many of them took to Twitter to demonstrate these system failures.
— Héctor Rubio (@JxviRubio) June 9, 2016
Commitment to transparency is not just preached, it is practiced. Serious failures in #TuPlataformaMX (Your Platform) require course corrections.
Transparency expert Renata Terrazas denounced the failures of the “modern” tool released by the INAI:
La realidad ha sido otra, la plataforma ha fallado desde el día uno y a dos semanas, muchas personas no han logrado hacer solicitudes, no pueden acceder a las solicitudes que realizaron con antelación por lo que no pueden revisar las respuestas de las autoridades, no pueden meter recursos de impugnación, entre tantas otras fallas que, sin importar sean técnicas o no, obstaculizan el ejercicio de un derecho.
El problema de la falla de la plataforma no es menor. No es un tema tecnológico simple que no permite realizar una actividad, se trata de un error técnico que deriva en la violación de un derecho, y de manera muy lamentable, la violación proviene de aquellas instituciones que tienen como mandato velar por ese derecho.
The reality has been another story, the platform has failed from day one and in just two weeks, many people have not been able to complete requests, they can’t access requests made in advance so they’re unable to review responses from the authorities, they can’t submit resources to challenge requests, among many other failures, regardless if there are technical problems or not, this is impeding the exercise of a right.
The failure of the platform is not a minor issue. It’s not a simple technical error that is prohibiting activity, it’s a technical error that results in the violation of a right, and deplorably, the violation is originating from the institutions that are mandated to ensure that right.
Days before publishing her article, Terrazas shared these images on Twitter:
— Renata (@Renaterra_zas) May 17, 2016
Come on @INAImexico I can't access my requests or solicit more information.
The control of sexting, another problem afflicting the INAI
Questions have also emerged regarding the the scope of privacy and protection of personal information, another of the fundamental rights that INAI is responsible for ensuring. In July, 2016, the INAI together with other institutions, launched a campaign against sending and receiving sexually explicit messages between mobile devices, an activity better known as ‘sexting’. The regional newspaper El Debate reported on the initiative:
El Instituto Nacional de Transparencia Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos Personales (INAI), PantallasAmigas, y representantes de las instituciones públicas y privadas que colaboran, lanzaron la campaña “Pensar antes de sextear. 10 Razones para no realizar sexting”, que tiene como fin alertar sobre los riesgos que implica dicha práctica…
The National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI), PantallasAmigas (Friendly Screens) and collaborating representatives of public and private institutions launched the campaign “Think before sexting. 10 reasons not to sext,” which aims to warn about the risks of this activity…
The INAI spread the campaign via Twitter with the following graphic:
— INAI (@INAImexico) July 23, 2016
Thinking about sexting? Keep these 10 things in mind.
*On the image:
1. There is another person involved that you now depend on
2. People and relationships can change
3. Protection of digital information is complicated
Stored on your cellphone
4. The distribution of digital information is uncontrollable
A split second
5. An image can provide much information
6. There are laws that criminalize actions linked to sexting
7. Sextortion can happen if the sexted image falls into the hands of blackmailers
8. Internet is fast and powerful
Without restraint, without limit
9. Social networks facilitate information to people nearby
Closer than farther
10. There is serious risk of cyberbullying if the image of sexting is published on the Internet
With all confidence
The initiative was criticized for containing sexist, chauvinistic overtones and undermining digital rights, as attorney Gisela Perez de Acha warned in the digital publication Horizontal:
“Pensar antes de hacer sexting” es el ejemplo perfecto de una política pública fallida, moralista y desigualitaria. En vez de buscar condiciones de igualdad y sancionar a los que nos agreden sexualmente (sea en casos de violación o por difusión de nuestras imágenes íntimas) reproduce los mismos estereotipos de género. Culpar, castigar o censurar a las mujeres que se salen de los roles, espacios y atributos “apropiados” en función de su sexo; a aquellas que no son “recatadas, sumisas y buenas esposas”, valida la violencia.
“Think before sexting” is the perfect example of a failed moralistic and inegalitarian public policy. Instead of seeking equality and punishing those who sexually assault us (whether in cases of rape or diffusion of our intimate photos) it reproduces the same gender stereotypes. Blame, punish or censor women who break away from the “appropriate” roles, spaces and attributes based on their sex; those who are not “demure, submissive and good wives,” this validates violence.
In an open letter, the author referred to the digital right to share these messages:
Tenemos derecho a sextear. A tomar fotos o videos íntimos, explorar nuestros cuerpos con la cámara de teléfono que nos acompaña a todos lados; a descubrir nuestro mejor ángulo y elegir a quién mandárselo. En la era digital, el sexo es más que un mero intercambio de fluidos. No tenemos que seguir los estándares “eróticos” o “pornográficos.” Si son nuestros desnudos, son nuestras reglas. Y, entonces, el sexting es un ejercicio de autodeterminación que forma parte de nuestros derechos sexuales: el conjunto de derechos humanos que reconocen la capacidad de expresar nuestra sexualidad sin discriminación.
We have the right to sext. To take intimate photos or videos, and explore our bodies with the camera phone that we carry everywhere; to discover our best angle and choose who to send them to. In the digital age, sex is more than a mere exchange of fluids. We do not have to follow the “erotic” or “pornographic” standards. If they are our nudes, then we make the rules. And sexting is an exercise of self-determination that is part of our sexual rights: combined with human rights that recognize the ability to express our sexuality without discrimination.
The website Animal Político gathered expressions of a group of activists regarding the campaign sponsored by INAI:
Tras su difusión en redes sociales, el llamado de las autoridades a no hacer sexting provocó críticas como la de la organización Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, que considera que la campaña apela a la moralidad, y tiene un enfoque inadecuado.
After being broadcast on social media, the call from authorities to stop sexting provoked criticism such as that from the organization, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (Network in Defense of Digital Rights) who considers the campaign an appeal to morality with an inappropriate approach.
Doubts about the integrity of the commissioners
Lastly, legal professionals have questioned the integrity of the INAI commissioners. Just this past July 2016, the trade magazine El Mundo del Abogado (World Attorney) published an editorial entitled “Something is rotten in the INAI“, focusing on a case of alleged corruption and opacity involving the commissioners.
— Transparencia. (@PoderTranspMx) 4 de julio de 2016
Something smells rotten at the @INAImexico El Mundo del Abogado pins it down. If it smells rotten, it is.
In addition, the magazine referred poor management of budgets at the INAI:
En el nuevo INAI se han realizado más gastos inútiles que nunca: https://t.co/0n91pHlEL1
— El Mundo del Abogado (@mundodelabogado) July 5, 2016
More wasteful spending than ever in the new INAI.
The body responsible for ensuring transparency in Mexico is an essential component in the fight against corruption, but it can only fulfill this duty if it follows the same principles that underpin its existence.