Other Posts in Government

March 1, 2012

Q4 2011: The Case of the Missing Crime Stats

While Internet penetration rates are still relatively low in Mexico (less than 30%), Mexico’s government has implemented a wide-ranging e-government strategy. Mexican e-government took off rapidly after 2001 as part of Vicente Fox’s Good Government Presidential Agenda initiative. Government websites are well-maintained and every state government now has a webpage. A good deal of information can be found on these websites, ranging from economic to security data. This paper by Irak López Dávila (hosted at the ITU’s website) provides a good background into Mexican e-government.

However, limited access to information remains a frequently cited obstacle facing Mexican activists. Despite the e-government boom, many would argue that e-government took off only in appearance, arguing that much information about government activities remains incomplete or entirely inaccessible. A quick look at the website for INEGI, Mexico’s national statistics institute, shows that it has vast amounts of information available, but finding the data you’re looking for can be a somewhat round-about process due to the way the data is organized. On the one hand, this may be due to bureaucratic quirks that grace the websites of many other OECD governments. On the other hand, NGOs and CSOs have argued, access to information requests are often met with a similar process. After parents leading the Movimiento 5 de Junio movement pulled resources to have an official investigation on the fire at Guardería ABC carried out and submitted it to the state government, the government later refused them access to their own report. In other instances, the total amount spent on a project is publicly available, but there is no documentation breaking down expenses – how much was spent on what and how many – making it difficult to hold irresponsible spending and corruption to account.

Photo: Cuartoscuro via Animal Político

The issue most recently came to a head this January after the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PRG) and the President’s Office announced that crime statistics for September-December 2011 – including the government’s official tally for the number of people killed in drug-related violence – would remain classified. Many cried foul, protesting that the government was refusing to release unflattering data for political reasons. A common theory was that officials were reluctant to release the data that might hurt their chances in this summer’s elections. The announcement prompted a furious backlash from the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Personal Information (IFAI) and civil society groups who feared a disturbing precent for classifying security information. IFAI,  an independent body created by executive order of President Vicente Fox in 2002 as part of the Federal Transparency and  Access to Government Information Law, directly petitioned the PRG to release the data.

The campaign to have the data released appears to have been successful, as the National Public Safety System (SNSP) announced on February 8, 2012 that it would begin to provide crime statistics for the last quarter of 2011. As detailed in a Latin American Herald Tribune article [en], SNSP Executive Secretary Jose Oscar Vega Marin publicly stated data on robberies for the period, and told reporters that the following week it would release kidnapping figures and over the next two weeks release data on homicides and extortions. These figures were indeed released according to schedule, with SNSP announcing kidnapping statistics on February 16, and homicide statistics, though data on seven states was not included, on February 23. Animal Político has articles explaining the security statistics here [es]. However, the underlying question of what data the government is obligated to release remains in debate. IFAI continued to draw attention to the issue last week with its commissioner, Jacqueline Piscard, stating on February 26 that access to information was more important in an election year than ever, a message that was replicated several times on Twitter. SoMe enVivo will continue to track the #IFAI discussion to see if this debate about access to information related to security grows in social media spheres, or has died down after the release of security statistics from Q4 2011. We will also track the release of data from Q1 2012, which may be available this April.

February 7, 2012
“Ley Duarte” and Governing Social Media

On Sept. 20, 2011, Veracruz State Congress passed a law on public disturbances that criminalized spreading false information about security threats. The incident was prompted by an August 25 incident in which two tweeters posted rumors that drug cartel members planned to target public schools, which prompted panic from concerned parents who tried to take their children out of schools. Investigations later determined that the rumors were false and the users who began posting the rumors were tracked down. Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte originally accused the two of terrorism:

We have located the origin of all of today’s misinformation, I want to report that this will have legal consequences Art. 311 (terrorism)

The pair, María de Jesús “Maruchi” Bravo Pagola and Gilberto Martínez Vera, claimed that they had simply passed on information they received from other sources, not knowing that the information was incorrect. They originally faced up to 30 years in prison, though their sentences were ultimately reduced under the new law – Article 373. Article 373 of the Veracruz Penal Code establishes disturbances of public order carried out by spreading false information about security threats as a criminal offense punishable by four years in prison or a fine of 500-1,000 days of pay. The text of the law is available in the electronic version of the September 20, 2011 issue of Gaceta Oficial, an official publication of Veracruz State Government. The full text of stated motives of the law was posted at Animal Político.

Both the arrest of Bravo Pagola and Martínez Vera and the passage of Article 373 prompted an uproar of protest from social media users, civil society activists, and human rights groups, among others, who argued that charges of “terrorism” or “disturbance of the public order” grossly exaggerated the situation, and that the law represented a disturbing precedent for restrictions on free speech. Global Voices’ post on the issue highlighted comments from social media users, who dubbed the law #LeyJavierDuarte and #LeyDuarte.

At present, the issue appears to have died down as many activists opposed to “La Ley Duarte” have directed their attention to other perceived threats to free speech and an open Internet, including SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, Ley Döring, and other anti-piracy bills. A search for #LeyDuarte on Twitter shows that resistance to the law remains, but is now mixed in with #stopsopa and #leydoring hashtags, indicating that indignation about the law has gotten swept up in a larger movement for a totally free and open Internet.

Although our research schedule has led us to analyze this case belatedly, the Ley Duarte case encapsulates the tensions between government and society in security provision. On the one hand, the case demonstrates ongoing challenges with verifying security reports in Mexico, where citizens appear to trust social networks more than government to keep them informed about danger. As demonstrated in this AFP video, this situation is exacerbated where journalists have been intimidated into self-censorship. On the other hand, it shows a conservative reaction from government on how these platforms interact with Mexico’s security environment. Penalizing use of social media and labeling users as “terrorists” served ultimately to isolate the social media community in Veracruz, reducing chances for a productive partnership between government and civil society to improve security reporting.

2 February, 2012
Citizen Denunciation, Citizen Danger

The highlighted text translates to “citizen denunciation.”

One interaction between government, new media, and civil society revolves around efforts to encourage citizen reporting. The government, recognizing that community members are the people best able to recognize suspicious activity in their neighborhoods, but also understanding the high risks involved with reporting criminal activity, have established several anonymous hotlines where citizens can provide information while protecting their identity. Many press releases on the Defense Secretariat (SEDENA)’s and the Naval Secretariat (SEMAR)’s websites make mention of “anonymous tipoffs” that aided successful security operations.  The risks involved with openly criticizing DTO activity, even with the presumed anonymity of the Internet, became apparent in a widely reported incident in Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas in which reporter Maria Elisabeth Macías was found murdered in downtown Nuevo Laredo with a sign next to her body warning other “busybodies” not to report about drug gang activity. Macías was a high-profile blogger on the site NuevoLaredoenVivo under the persona “La Nena de Laredo”, and drew visitors’ attention to government hotline telephone numbers and online reporting forms, encouraging them to report on local criminals. It remains uncertain how members of the Los Zetas criminal organization discovered Macías’ identity.

February 2, 2012
Social Fabric and Education
The Mexican Government announced yesterday that it would expand university scholarships for the benefit of over 8 million students. Calderón discussed the policy with some students via his Twitter account:
[View the story “gob.mx in the social media sphere” on Storify]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: