Partly Free
A Obstacles to Access 17 25
B Limits on Content 25 35
C Violations of User Rights 18 40
Last Year's Score & Status
60 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Mexico’s internet freedom remained constrained by online manipulation tactics, high levels of violence against digital reporters, and ongoing investigations surrounding abusive surveillance practices. Bots and fake social media accounts were prolific during the election campaign in 2018, and sought to influence debates by championing or attacking candidates and spreading disinformation. Violence, threats and cyberattacks continued to frequently target digital media covering sensitive stories such as crime and corruption. While the new government has pledged to make internet connectivity a top priority, the country continues to face challenges in its quest to increase competition and reduce the digital gap between urban and rural populations.

Mexico held general elections in July 2018 after a campaign marred by political violence. The landslide victory of left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador represented a clear rejection of the outgoing administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). López Obrador’s new administration faces many governance challenges: violence perpetrated by organized criminals, corruption among government officials, human rights abuses perpetrated by both state and nonstate actors, and widespread impunity.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019

  • Since launching operations in 2018, Mexico’s wholesale wireless network has expanded its coverage and began signing up new customers entering the ICT market (see A1).
  • Bots, trolls, and fake accounts spread disinformation and propaganda to promote or attack certain candidates on social media during the 2018 elections. In 2019, government supporters launched social media campaigns against media outlets and users who criticized the president (see B5).
  • Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with spying software Pegasus. After denying they existed, for the first time in February 2019 the Attorney General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017 (see C5).
  • Several election-related platforms suffered cyberattacks in the run-up to the vote, including the website of an opposition party during the final presidential debate (see C8).

A Obstacles to Access

During the coverage period, Mexico’s wholesale wireless network expanded its coverage and started to sign up new customers. Though internet penetration has increased in recent years, geographical, ethnic, and linguistic divides persisted. In 2019, the López Obrador administration increased funding to the new Internet for All program, which will focus on serving marginalized areas.

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 4.004 6.006

Six years after introducing reforms to reshape the telecommunications industry, Mexico has noted improvements in internet connectivity, quality of service, and prices.1 However, the real-world impact of these changes in some parts of the country remains to be seen, as the country still suffers from a wide digital divide between urban and rural communities (see A2). The number of Mexicans with fixed internet subscriptions has increased over the past decade, growing from 2.72 percent in 2006 to 14.5 percent in 2018. However, Mexico still falls significantly below the rates of other OECD countries, which average 30.60 percent.2

While Mexico’s mobile penetration still lags behind other countries in the region, the numbers have increased, reaching more than 120 million subscriptions in 2018.3 There were more than 83.4 million mobile broadband internet subscriptions in 2018 – a 204 percent increase since 2013.4 In October 2018, Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) completed the process of releasing the 600 MHz band for 5G services.5 In 2019, Movistar and AT&T announced plans to switch off their 2G mobile service, enabling them to repurpose spectrum for 4G LTE. Reports estimated that there were still 27 million 2G users in Mexico.6

Telecommunications reforms introduced in 2013 sought to substantially reshape the telecommunications industry and increase access. The reform package conceived under the presidency of Peña Nieto seeks to develop a wholesale wireless network (“Red Compartida”), and a fiber-optic backbone network (“Red Troncal”) using more than 25,000km of fiber optic strands belonging to state-owned electricity utility CFE.

In March 2018, the consortium in charge of developing the Red Compartida project, Altán Redes, launched operations, covering 32 percent of the population with 4.5G technology.7 It reached 45 percent coverage by July 2019.8 Altán Redes has invested more than $600 million in telecommunications infrastructure for Red Compartida.9 Wholesale clients began to market services in the second quarter of 2018.10 This network would offer data capacity to other operators, with the ultimate goal of reaching more than 92 percent of the population.11 However, industry representatives have criticized that the network duplicates coverage in areas that are already served by mobile operators.12

Meanwhile, a tender to develop the Red Troncal was delayed in 2018; eventually the government announced it was suspending the scheduled tender in August 2019.13 This decision followed the formal announcement of a new non-profit state company called CFE Telecomunicaciones e Internet para Todos, tasked with offering broadband in underserved areas.14

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 1.001 3.003

Despite growing internet penetration, the digital divide between urban and rural regions in Mexico remained significant: in 2018, 73.1 percent out of 74.3 million internet users were in urban areas and only 40.6 percent in rural areas.1 Ethnic and linguistic divides are also significant.2 According to recent figures, 14 million indigenous people and farmers were disconnected.3 Civil society organizations have presented recommendations to improve internet access among indigenous and rural communities, including clear statistical information, supporting local content production, a simple and agile licensing system, and better governance of free spectrum.4

Prices for certain broadband mobile packages have dropped in recent years, as estimates have pointed to a 43 percent price drop between 2013 and 2018.5 In May 2019 however, companies confirmed an increase in prices for mobile service plans, ranging between 5 and 12 percent.6 Smartphones have gained popularity, thanks to a decrease in prices for mobile phone use and promotions that narrow the price gap between basic phones and smartphones.7 On the other hand, digital rights advocates such as R3D have long exposed the possible effects of zero-rating offers, warning that such practices can create an unequal ecosystem for consumers.8

The first community service provider in Mexico, Indigenous Community Telecommunications (TIC), was at risk in early 2018 after a court denied its request for an exemption from paying for the radio frequencies it uses.9 In April 2018, a court ruled in favor of TIC, instructing the regulator to reconsider the requirement. The non-profit organization has been providing mobile phone and data services to more than 3,000 households in rural and indigenous communities for $2 per month. In September 2018, TIC announced plans to offer internet and mobile phone services via satellite.10

Initiatives to increase connectivity have faced challenges in reducing the digital divide.11 Covering the country’s internet gaps is one of the top priorities promoted by López Obrador’s new administration. In 2019, the new “Internet para Todos” (Internet for All) program received increased funding compared to the program implemented under the previous government, called “México Conectado” (Connected Mexico).12 Many access points offering free internet in public spaces under the México Conectado program were disconnected in mid-2019 after their contracts expired, pending new tendering processes under Internet para Todos, which will focus on serving highly marginalized areas.13

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 6.006 6.006

There were no reports of government-imposed restrictions on ICT connectivity during the past year. Article 190 in the 2014 Telecommunications Law, however, authorizes the “appropriate authority” within the Mexican government to request the suspension of telephone service in order to “halt the commission of crimes.”1

Although most of the backbone infrastructure in Mexico is privately owned, the state-owned company Telecomm has taken on greater control of the infrastructure, after taking over fiber-optic infrastructure from the Federal Electricity Commission.2 Mexico’s first internet exchange point (IXP), was set up by KIO Networks in April 2014. It increases efficiency and reduces costs for Mexican ISPs by helping to manage traffic across networks.3 In 2018, the Secretariat of Communications and Transport and Yucatan state government signed an agreement to build the next IXP in Mexico.4

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 4.004 6.006

Mexico’s reforms have sought to improve the ICT market by reducing market dominance and barriers for investment. Under constitutional reforms to the telecommunications sector, companies that control more than 50 percent of the market are considered “preponderant” players and are subject to antitrust measures by the regulator.1 New customers have started to be offered services via the wholesale wireless network Red Compartida, intended to spur competition. The Mexican company GuruComm was the first to launch its services via the Red Compartida in August 2018, followed by Internet ON from Dish.2

Despite some changes, however, the ICT market remained dominated by a few players. By the end of 2018, the mobile internet provider with the largest market share was América Móvil with 70.7 percent, followed by AT&T with 15.5 percent and Telefónica with 11.7 percent. In the fixed broadband market, América Móvil led with 57.9 percent, followed by Grupo Televisa (19.1 percent) and Megacable MCM (10 percent).3

In 2017, Mexico’s Supreme Court cancelled the “zero rates” imposed on the dominant company, which enabled competitors such as AT&T and Telefónica to use its network free of charge.4 By the end of 2017, in fulfillment of the Supreme Court’s decision, the regulator Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) established the interconnection fee rival companies have had to pay to América Móvil starting in January 2018.5 Critics perceived this decision as a win for the dominant player against the telecommunications reform, and competitors such as AT&T and Telefónica warned about its impact on prices.6

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 2.002 4.004

As part of a 2013 constitutional reform, the government established a new autonomous regulatory agency known as the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) to increase transparency of media regulation.1 IFT has the legal mandate to act as an antitrust body, protecting the industry against monopolistic practices.

The most notable step IFT has taken was to declare América Móvil and Televisa dominant companies. However, IFT has received criticism for its role in reversing some antitrust measures, and for complying with the Supreme Court decision to revoke the declaration of Televisa as a dominant company in pay TV.2 In 2017, it was also criticized for authorizing Telcel to exploit 60 MHz of the 2.5 GHz band.3 Associations such as the Telecommunications Law Institute (IDET) and the Competitive Intelligence Unit (CIU) claimed that this move in fact reinforced the dominant player, contradicting IFT’s mandate to guarantee competition and equal conditions for all agents in the sector.4

B Limits on Content

Harassment and physical violence have encouraged a climate of self-censorship among journalists and online activists, although popular independent digital outlets are being established. During the 2018 elections, disinformation and propaganda in support of or against certain candidates were disseminated through bots, trolls, and fake accounts. Following the elections, government supporters launched social media campaigns against the president’s critics.

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content? 6.006 6.006

No evidence has been documented that the government or other actors have blocked or filtered the internet, nor any other ICT content. Social networking sites and international blog-hosting services are available in Mexico.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? 3.003 4.004

Politically-motivated content removals are not frequently reported in Mexico, although a handful of cases have pointed to users misusing flagging systems on social media to censor politically relevant content. In January 2019, Revista Etcétera complained that its Twitter account was suspended after users flagged it for violating the platform’s terms of service. According to the outlet’s editor, the suspension was based on a music video posted two years ago, but the timing coincided with a recent post about disagreements between AMLO and the far-left Zapatista Army of National Liberation.1 The account was restored several hours later.2 In April 2018, media outlet Aristegui Noticias denounced that while livestreaming the presidential debate on their Facebook page, banners appeared warning about “possible graphic content” and “sexually suggestive or partial nudity,” which affected their reach and views on the platform.3

On the other hand, in May 2019 a network of supporters of López Obrador using the hashtag #RedAMLOve denounced the suspension of their Twitter accounts and called for online protests. The suspensions were part of Twitter’s international effort to delete fake accounts.4 Users promoting #RedAMLOve have been linked to attacks against journalists and media critical of the president.5

There are also occasional reports of legal threats urging media outlets to take down content from their websites. In October 2018, Article 19 reported on the case of Página 66. The online news outlet started to receive threats of legal action for trademark infringement from representatives of Grupo Altavista, regarding a report that mentioned information about fiscal fraud.6

Facebook restrictions between July and December 2018 included: 78 pieces of content related to a video of a shooting at a school in Monterrey; 1,186 items in response to reports from the Mexican Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks and six items related to violations of electoral law (this period coincided with the presidential election campaign); and four items that had been reported for defamation.7 Twitter registered 2 removal requests with court order and 16 by government agencies, the police or others in the second half of 2018; according to the platform no content was withheld.8 In the first half of 2018, Google registered 96 removal requests; stated reasons included defamation, harassment, electoral law, nudity, and regulated goods and services.9

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 3.003 4.004

In April 2017, the Supreme Court of Justice declared blocking an entire website because of alleged copyright violations unconstitutional and considered it a disproportionate measure that violated freedom of expression.1

Although there is no strong legislative framework on intermediary liability, existing legislation offers some protections from liability for ISPs in cases of copyright infringement.2 A ruling from the Federal Institute of Access to Information and Personal Data Protection (IFAI)3 in January 2015 threatened to introduce greater liability for search engines if they did not comply with requests to remove sensitive personal information from their search results, but the resolution was successfully challenged.4

While there are currently no laws dealing with the so-called “right to be forgotten” in Mexico, organizations have raised concerns about the murky use of “right to be forgotten” type requests to censor sensitive information in Mexico.5 According to an interview with the founder of Eliminalia, a company dedicated to eliminating negative content from the web, their clients doubled in Mexico between 2015 and 2017.6

In April 2018, digital rights groups raised the alarm about approved changes to the Federal Copyright Law, which would allow courts to order precautionary measures against content suspected of copyright infringement. Digital activists decried the repercussions of this change on freedom of expression online, as courts would be able to order measures such as censorship of online content or seizure of equipment without providing proof that copyright violations have taken place.7 No specific cases of abuse of this law were reported during the coverage period of this report.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 1.001 4.004

A climate of violence and harassment against media contributes to significant self-censorship, especially in states heavily afflicted by violence (see C7).1 As a result, local media tend to refrain from reporting on stories about drug trafficking or drug-related violence. A study by SembraMedia noted that 21 percent of the digital outlets assessed admitted that they avoided covering news about certain topics, people, or institutions due to threats or intimidation.2

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 1.001 4.004

Mexico has a history of trolls and bots targeting discussions and reports that have been critical of the government, political parties, or politicians.1 During the 2018 election campaign, journalists and researchers documented how bots and “troll farms” were being used to spread online propaganda and disinformation to promote or attack certain candidates on social media.2

Commonly dubbed “Peñabots” under the presidency of Peña Nieto, automated accounts were used prolifically by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) during the 2012 election campaign, and recent studies showed how the party’s candidates continued to benefit from such networks ahead of the 2018 elections.3 However, it appeared that partisan bots and fake accounts were active in promoting a number of political parties in the 2018 campaign.4 Women candidates also reported smear campaigns against them with manipulated video and images, in some cases accompanied with discriminatory or sexualized content.5

During his first months in office, supporters of López Obrador have also launched social media attacks and campaigns against media and users who criticize the president. A report by Signa Lab detailed how a seemingly coordinated network of Twitter accounts formed by “semibots,” trolls and fans spreads campaigns against government critics, using hashtags such as #chayoteros (referring to journalists that take bribes) or #PrensaFifi (snobbish press).6

President López Obrador has increased media interactions by introducing daily livestreamed press conferences, but has in turn used this platform to set the message and speak out against certain journalists and news outlets that criticize him. In April 2019, the editor of Reforma received death threats and harassment on social media after the president criticized the paper for publishing a story that mentioned his address, even though it already was in the public domain.7 A social media campaign against the newspaper with the hashtag #NarcoReforma became a trending topic.8

A recent trend on social media also saw public officials blocking critical journalists and media from their social media accounts.9 Nevertheless, a recent ruling set a positive precedent on this discriminatory practice: in March 2019, the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the General Attorney of Veracruz should unblock a journalist from following his Twitter account. The journalist was covering issues related to human rights, violence, and disappearances in the state of Veracruz.10

While public awareness about online manipulation and the spread of disinformation has increased, efforts to tackle the problem have become more challenging given the widespread use of closed messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.11 Fact-checking initiatives such as Verificado 2018 sought to counter false information by partnering with local and national media outlets. They published more than 400 notes and 50 videos to debunk false news during the election campaign in 2018.12 One example of a message assessed by Verificado urged voters to check boxes for two candidates to ensure their vote against the third candidate prevailed – something which would actually nullify their vote.13

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 2.002 3.003

Scarce funding creates challenges for individuals and nonprofits seeking to establish sustainable online outlets in Mexico. Reliance on public advertising renders independent media vulnerable to content manipulation or closure due to lack of funding, 1 although the former appears to be the more pernicious of the two trends.2 One “preferred tactic” mentioned in a recent study by SembraMedia was launching lengthy tax audits against media outlets.3

In April 2018, Congress approved a Social Communication Law to regulate government expenses in advertising.4 Critics of the law contend that it does little to change the status quo, as it lacks clear rules for official advertisement spending and facilitates discretionary public advertising.5 While López Obrador announced that he would halve the government’s budget for advertising,6 media and press freedom groups continued to urge the new Congress to repeal the current law in favor of clearer criteria for the distribution of official advertisement.7

Articles 145 and 146 of the Telecommunications Law establish protections for net neutrality. However, net neutrality is a contentious issue due to commercial agreements that allow differentiated prices depending on the destination of internet connections. Operators such as Telcel, Movistar and AT&T, brought back the availability of zero-rating plans—where certain digital services like HBO, Netflix, WhatsApp, or other social networking sites do not count towards a customer’s data allowance.8 The regulator was expected to present a draft policy on net neutrality in August 2018, and submit it for public consultation.9

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity? 3.003 4.004

Violence and economic constraints affect independent digital outlets in Mexico.1 Despite these challenges, independent outlets are appearing, enriching the media ecosystem with alternative agendas that support human rights and the right to information.2 Examples include Lado B, an outlet created by freelancers and local journalists in Puebla, and Amapola, a new outlet from Guerrero that aims to question the state’s narrative regarding violence.3 Digital outlet Animal Político has more than a million followers on Facebook and Twitter and is successfully experimenting with alternative forms of financing.4

  • 1“Los medios digitales nativos pagan un precio por perseguir la verdad,” [Native digital media pay a price for chasing the truth], Sembramedia, accessed January 6, 2020,
  • 2For example: Based in Mexico City, Pie de Página is an initiative born from the experience of the Periodistas de a pie network and Radios Libres, a project that seeks to boost communitarian radios with free technologies. Another innovative initiative in the digital media landscape is Pictoline, born at the end of 2015. Other examples of independent online news outlets in other states are Página 3 based in Oaxaca; and Chiapas Paralelo in Chiapas.
  • 3Amapola Periodismo Transgresor, accessed January 6, 2020,
  • 4Tania Lara, “Popular Mexican news site Animal Politico seeks to eliminate dependence on government advertising,” Journalism in the Americas Blog, Knight Center at the University of Texas Austin, April 30, 2013,…; Daniela Bermúdez, “Animal político, un sitio basado en contenido en lugar de clics”, [Animal Politico, a site based on content instead of clicks], El Economista, June 18 2016,…; Animal Político crowdfunding campaign, accessed January 6, 2020,
B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 6.006 6.006

Mexico’s social media landscape is very dynamic. Even in the face of cyberattacks, harassment, and physical violence, citizens make regular use of digital tools to raise awareness about human rights abuses related to violence in the country and to mobilize protests against gender violence, for example using the hashtag #YoTambien (MeToo), #MiPrimerAcoso (My First Harassment), and #SiMeMatan (If I Am Murdered). Increasingly, however, women who denounce abuses via online platforms face backlash in the form of threats or even physical violence (see C7).1 In September 2018, the national campaign “Yo prefiero el lago” (I prefer the lake) was launched to share information about the environmental and social impact of the construction of a new airport for Mexico City on the dried-out land of Lake Texcoco. The plan was scrapped after an informal referendum rejected it.2

C Violations of User Rights

Mexico continued to be one of the most violent environments in the world for online journalists and bloggers. During the coverage period, reports revealed that journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures had been targeted by Pegasus surveillance software, which is sold only to governments. Several election-related platforms experienced cyberattacks prior to the vote.

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 3.003 6.006

The Mexican Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and privacy of personal communications. A constitutional reform in 2013 established internet access as a human right and guaranteed net neutrality. In 2016, the Supreme Court largely upheld data retention provisions of a 2014 telecommunications law which civil society groups had criticized as a threat to privacy and freedom of expression (see C6).

Despite legislation intended to increase the security of journalists and human rights defenders, the government has had little success in deterring attacks on journalists, bloggers, and activists, in a country that ranks near the top in global surveys on impunity. According to the human rights organization Article19 in Mexico, more than 99 percent of crimes against journalists were unpunished between 2010 and 2018.1 The Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, passed in 2012, established a new institutional body of government officials and civil society members in charge of protecting threatened human rights workers and journalists.2 However, organizations have denounced the lack of coordination between federal and state authorities, the lack of a gender perspective, the poor capacity to react to the various forms of violence, and prevailing impunity.3

Human rights groups have also expressed concerns about Mexico’s militarization of public security and abuses by the military. In a positive move in November 2018, the Supreme Court voted to overturn the controversial Internal Security Law adopted in December 2017, ruling it was unconstitutional because Congress did not have the authority to legislate on this matter.4 The law empowered the armed forces to gather intelligence by “any legal means possible,” raising questions about military intervention in communications and information gathering in an opaque legal environment. 5 It also stated that information gathered through compliance with this law would be considered of national security interest, and therefore restricted from public access.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities? 2.002 4.004

Although defamation was decriminalized at the federal level in 2007, criminal defamation statutes continue to exist at the state level.1 Provisions from both criminal and civil codes continue to be used to intimidate journalists, including those publishing online. One example is Article 333 of the Penal Code in Chihuahua, which criminalizes those who, “for a profit or to cause injury, improperly produce or edit, by any technical means, images, texts or audio, which are totally or partially false or true.”2

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities? 4.004 6.006

Legal threats are frequently issued in response to critical reports published online. In March 2019, a municipal president threatened to prosecute an independent reporter after he published a story on Facebook about an alleged conflict of interest regarding an official advertising contract with a radio station.1 In October 2018, the online outlet Página 66 denounced that a company was threatening them with legal action if they failed to remove a compromising article.2

Online reporters also continue to risk arbitrary arrest while covering protests or political events. In May 2019, Article19 in Mexico reported that three members of the outlet Tu Espacio del Sureste were arbitrarily detained by municipal authorities in Yucatán, while they were presenting a request for information at the mayor’s office. According to accounts, their phones were confiscated and they were released after seven hours, without explanation.3

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 4.004 4.004

After a 2008 requirement that cell phone users register with the government was revoked in 2012, there are no longer official provisions regarding anonymity or the use of encryption in Mexico.

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 1.001 6.006

The Mexican government has used the poor security situation in the country as a justification to expand surveillance powers with little accountability and oversight. Little progress has been made to thoroughly investigate illegal surveillance practices in the country, after a series of revelations exposed the abuse of digital spying technologies intended to investigate criminals.

By March 2019, Citizen Lab and Mexican partner organizations had documented at least 25 cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures being targeted with spying software Pegasus. In November 2018, more cases of journalists targeted in 2017 emerged. Colleagues of the journalist Javier Valdez received infection attempts days after his assassination.1 In March 2019, Citizen Lab also reported that the widowed wife of the journalist was targeted in 2017.2 The software, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, is sold exclusively to governments. Attacks have especially targeted those investigating government involvement in corruption or human rights abuses.3 The report by Citizen Lab concluded that NSO’s government-exclusive espionage tools may have been used by a government entity on behalf of interests other than national security or fighting crime.4 Evidence collected since 2011 has shown that the Mexican government spent at least $80 million on such spyware across at least three security agencies.5

Civil society and several international human rights organizations, as well as experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and United Nations, called on the government of Mexico to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of illegal spying.6 However, human rights groups contended that the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) was not the best equipped to investigate the matter, given that revelations also pointed to its involvement in the purchase of spyware.7 In May 2018, a judge ordered the PGR to investigate with due diligence and to accept proof submitted by victims of Pegasus.8 However, at the end of Peña Nieto's term, the investigation had not advanced.9 In December 2018, a court ruled in favor of R3D, ordering the privacy watchdog (INAI) to invalidate a resolution that allowed the Attorney General's Office to hide the names, positions and signatures of the individuals who participated in the acquisition of Pegasus malware.10 For the first time in February 2019, INAI received evidence showing the renewal of licensing contracts for Pegasus software for 2016 and 2017 belonging to the Attorney General’s Office.11 However, in the same month, the Attorney General’s Office announced that Pegasus had been uninstalled from the devices on which it was operating, which could amount to the obstruction of a criminal investigation, according to R3D.12

Previous reports also revealed that Mexico was the biggest client of the surveillance company Hacking Team, which had signed more than 14 contracts with various state and federal agencies. Civil society organizations argued that these contracts were illegal because many of the agencies involved lacked constitutional or legal authority to conduct surveillance or espionage.13 The media outlet Animal Político accused the state government of Puebla of using Hacking Team products to target the political opposition and journalists.14

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users? 4.004 6.006

Under the 2014 Telecommunications Law, Article 189 forces companies to provide users’ geolocation among other communications metadata to police, military, or intelligence agencies in real time. Article 190 of Telecommunications Law similarly requires providers to maintain records of their users’ metadata for a period of two years, and grants security agencies access to metadata at any time.1 Digital activists have argued that such provisions contradict international human rights standards, in particular the right to privacy. 2 In May 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that requirements for data retention and real-time geolocation included in the 2014 Telecommunications Law were constitutional. However, the ruling did establish the need for a judicial warrant to access historical metadata.3

Reforms to the National Code on Criminal Procedure, published on June 17, 2016, now require a judicial warrant for government entities to use geolocation, save for some exceptional cases, such as kidnapping investigations when a person’s life or physical integrity is in danger.4 The Supreme Court ruling also provided some clarification as to which authorities can access user data, notably the Federal Prosecutor, Federal Police, and the authority directly in charge of applying and coordinating the National Security Law.

In October 2018, R3D presented a report showing that companies received more than 140,000 requests for users’ personal information during 2016 and 2017. More than a third of these requests were made by unknown authorities. Telcel and Telmex delivered information in 100 percent of the cases, while Movistar complied with 83.4 percent and AT&T with 61.5 percent.5

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities? 0.000 5.005

Threats and violence from drug cartels, members of local governments, and other actors have continued to put journalists’ lives at risk and curtail the safe practice of journalism. Mexico, and particularly the state of Veracruz, has remained the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists and one of the most dangerous in the world.1 Between January and August 2018, the network #Rompeelmiedo documented 185 aggressions against the press, including intimidation and harassment (40 percent), censorship (17 percent) and physical attacks (16 percent).2

Article 19 in Mexico has documented a total of 127 journalists murdered in the country between 2000 to March 2019, of which 48 were in the administration of Felipe Calderón; 47 in the one of Enrique Peña Nieto, and 7 more in the first six months of the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.3 Digital reporters continue to be among the victims. On July 24, 2018, the editor of Semanario Playa News Rubén Pat Chuich was fatally attacked. Another journalist who covered police-related news for this outlet, José Guadalupe Chan Dzib, was killed earlier that month.4 Francisco Romero, a journalist who collaborated at Semanario Playa News before opening his own news website, was killed in May 2019.5 On September 22, 2018, reporter Mario Leonel was killed in Chiapas; he had received death threats after publishing information related to corruption involving government officials.6 Rubén Pat and Mario Leonel had denounced threats received before their deaths.7

Physical attacks against online reporters and online death threats were frequently reported during this period. In November 2018, a group of journalists were kidnapped while covering the migrant exodus in Tijuana.8 Article19 reported 129 online threats against journalists in 2018. 9 In April 2019, reporter Ana Luisa Cantoral, who collaborates with the digital media outlet Pá and MVM Noticias, received death threats via SMS. The threats may have been linked to her current research on irregularities within the Secretariat of Public Security.10 In December 2018, journalists from Oaxaca denounced that they had been the target of threats via Facebook.11

Online gender-based violence has become a critical problem in the country, affecting women journalists, politicians, feminists, and organizations. Organizations have documented viral hate against women who denounce any type of violence using social media, organized efforts to take down websites and social media profiles and to delete posts from women activists, organizations and collectives, as well as smear campaigns, extortion, and dissemination of intimate content.12

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 0.000 3.003

Technical attacks have become a central tactic in attempts to suppress freedom of expression in Mexico, and perpetrators do so with relative impunity.1 The techniques involved in these attacks range from DDoS attacks, hijacking, and malware infections.2

Journalists and activists have frequently reported cases of digital surveillance and cyberattacks, including DDoS attacks and malicious software, often in retaliation for coverage of corruption or human rights-related issues. On May 6, 2019, an attack affected the news website of Mexicans against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) for 13 hours, and temporarily replaced the site’s content.3 Another attack a few weeks later lured users to a fake website. Both attacks came after the publication of the millionaire profits obtained by Carlos Lomelí, the delegate of social programs of the federal government in Jalisco, through the sale of medicines.4

Several attacks were recorded in the run-up to the 2018 elections. Oraculus, a website focusing on the 2018 elections, reported that it was attacked ahead of the vote on July 1. Users were unable to access content on the site, including election predictions polls.5 A DDoS attack also crashed a website of the opposition party National Action Party on June 12, coinciding with the publication of documents critical of contender López Obrador.6

In a context of distrust due to the recent revelations of illegal surveillance practices, a National Cybersecurity Strategy introduced in 2017 sparked concerns among digital rights activists who highlighted the lack of control or transparency mechanisms within the strategy.7

On Mexico

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  • Global Freedom Score

    60 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    61 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

  • Websites Blocked

  • Pro-government Commentators

  • Users Arrested