Mexico

Partly Free
61
100
A Obstacles to Access 17 25
B Limits on Content 26 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)

header1 Overview

While the online environment in Mexico continued to feature robust civic mobilization and coverage of sensitive issues by digital news outlets, constraints on internet freedom persisted during the coverage period. Problems included manipulation of content, coordinated attacks against journalists, and violence, threats, and cyberattacks against other users. While the government has pledged to make internet connectivity a top priority, the country faces obstacles in its quest to reduce the digital gap between rural and urban populations.

Mexico has been an electoral democracy since 2000, and alternation in power between parties is routine at both the federal and state levels. However, the country suffers from severe deficits in the rule of law that limit citizens’ full enjoyment of political rights and civil liberties. Violence perpetrated by organized crime groups, corruption among government officials, human rights abuses by both state and nonstate actors, and rampant impunity are among the most visible of Mexico’s many governance challenges.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2019 – May 31, 2020

  • The government introduced “social coverage” objectives with the aim of providing internet access for marginalized communities, though geographical, ethnic, and linguistic gaps in access persisted (see A1 and A2).
  • While there was some online self-censorship, independent digital outlets continued to provide information on sensitive topics, and users mobilized for activism on key issues (see B4, B7, and B8).
  • In response to media criticism of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government threatened media outlets with administrative penalties for publishing false information and warned them to express “respect” for provisions in the March 2020 Declaration of Health Emergency (see B5).
  • Access to Tor, a platform used by journalists and activists for online communication, was restricted during the coverage period due to partial blocking by a leading telecommunications provider (see C4).
  • The authorities appeared to continue to deploy digital surveillance tools, including international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers and geolocation tracking (see C5 and C6).
  • Media outlets were subjected to cyberattacks, though they could not be attributed to state actors; the online outlet Animal Político alone faced five attacks in May (see C8).

A Obstacles to Access

During the coverage period, the administration of President Manuel López Obrador continued to focus on improving infrastructure for marginalized communities, though geographical and ethnic divides in access persisted. The administration discontinued previous efforts to build a fiber-optic backbone network and canceled a trust that had funded significant infrastructure work, but it created a nonprofit state company that effectively turned the government into a telecommunications provider.

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

Seven years after the government introduced reforms to reshape the telecommunications industry, Mexico has made notable improvements in internet connectivity, quality of service, and prices.1 Infrastructure policy decisions continue to reflect official interest in bringing internet access to marginalized communities; however, the real-world impact of these changes remains to be seen in some regions, as the country suffers from a wide digital divide between urban and rural communities (see A2). The share of Mexicans with fixed-line internet subscriptions has increased over the past decade, growing from 2.72 percent in 2006 to 15.09 percent in 2019. However, Mexico still falls significantly below the rates of other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which average 32.9 percent.2

While Mexico’s mobile penetration rate lags behind other countries in the region, the number of users has increased, reaching more than 86 million in 2019.3 In October 2018, the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) completed the process of releasing the 600 MHz spectrum band for fifth-generation (5G) mobile service. In 2019, two providers, Movistar and AT&T, announced plans to switch off their 2G mobile service, enabling them to repurpose spectrum for 4G. Reports estimated that there were still 27 million 2G users in Mexico.4 In February 2020, América Móvil announced that the launch of its 5G network in Mexico would take place by the end of the year.5

Telecommunications reforms introduced in 2013 were designed to substantially reshape the industry and increase access. The reform package, conceived under the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012–18) sought to develop a wholesale wireless network (Red Compartida) and a fiber-optic backbone network (Red Troncal) using more than 25,000 kilometers of fiber-optic strands that belonged to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the state-owned electricity utility. Developments under the presidency of López Obrador reflect a change in strategy, with a new focus on regions yet to be connected and a discontinuation of the landmark initiatives introduced during Peña Nieto’s mandate: México Conectado public access points (see A2) and the development of Red Troncal.

The development of Red Compartida has continued under López Obrador. In March 2018, the consortium in charge of the project, Altán Redes, launched operations, covering 32 percent of the population with 4.5G technology.6 It reached 50 percent coverage by January 2020.7 Altán Redes has invested more than $600 million in telecommunications infrastructure for Red Compartida.8 Wholesale clients began to market services in the second quarter of 2018.9 The network offers data capacity to other operators, with the ultimate goal of reaching more than 92 percent of the population.10 However, industry representatives have criticized the network for duplicating coverage in areas that are already served by mobile providers.11

During the coverage period, IFT approved Altán Redes’ proposal to lengthen the period to meet its coverage goals by one year, and to modify them to reach, by January 2022, over 80,000 localities with fewer than 250 inhabitants and over 10,000 localities with more than 250 and fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. Altán Redes described this goal as “social coverage,” in line with López Obrador’s policy of focusing on communities yet to be connected.12

A tender to develop the Red Troncal was delayed in 2018, and eventually the government announced it was suspending the scheduled tender in August 2019.13 This decision followed the formal announcement of a new nonprofit state company called CFE Telecomunicaciones e Internet para Todos, tasked with envisioning a new strategy to offer broadband in underserved areas.14 In August 2019, IFT granted CFE Telecomunicaciones a concession for public use to provide not-for-profit telecommunications services.15 In June 2020, Raymundo Artís Espriú, the head of CFE Telecomunicaciones, stated that it does not intend to provide home internet access and will instead focus on connecting hospitals, community centers, schools, and public spaces.16

In January 2020, the Ministry of Communications and Transport announced a future tender for satellite internet access providers to connect 1,200 public access points across the country, projecting an eventual total of 19,000, to be primarily connected through fiber-optic lines.17 Some of the locations would be connected through Red Compartida; in May 2020, CFE Telecomunicaciones signed a contract with Altán Redes to become a mobile virtual operator on Red Compartida, foreseeing the installation of 2,000 fixed-line connections at 1,000 sites in rural communities.18

In April 2020, López Obrador called for the cancelation of over 300 public trusts in Mexico as an austerity measure in response to the COVID-19 crisis; one of these trusts was e-México, which was designated in 2001 to fund the country’s connectivity efforts,19 and which had close to 7 billion pesos ($360 million) still available in March 2019.20

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 remained significant: in 2019, 76.6 percent of the country’s 80.6 million internet users were in urban areas, and only 47.7 percent were in rural areas.1 Ethnic and linguistic divides are also significant.2 A 2019 national survey estimated that more than 10 million individuals in rural settings are not mobile phone users, nearly half of them because of financial reasons; it also estimated that more than a million users in rural settings do not have internet connections on their phones.3

In February 2019, civil society organizations presented a set of recommendations for improving internet access among Indigenous and rural communities, including the reporting of clear statistical information, support for local content production, a simple and agile licensing system, and better governance of free spectrum.4 However, during the coverage period, there appeared to be no evidence of progress toward these recommendations. The freedom of expression organization Article 19 reiterated in a March 2020 report the need to consider sociocultural, community-based, and Indigenous perspectives in the government’s internet connectivity plans.5

Indigenous network providers continue to operate with 2G technology, and in May 2020, Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias AC, a provider that offers mobile phone and data services to households in rural and Indigenous communities, asked IFT to grant a spectrum concession that would allow Indigenous providers to use licensed spectrum, as a way to overcome saturation caused by social-distancing measures enacted in response to COVID-19.6

Civil society responses to internet access challenges have continued to flourish in Indigenous communities. In late 2019, a collective of Tzeltal educators and technologists received media coverage for their work on “Intrabach,” an intranet for Tzeltal content to be used in communities with low rates of internet access.7 During the COVID-19 crisis, the Tayolchikawalis Initiative launched an online platform and communications campaign in the Nahuatl language for pandemic response, and CEPOS Media Lab and Herramientas para el Buen Vivir worked with rural teachers in Oaxaca to create a platform for distance learning.8

Prices for certain broadband mobile packages have dropped in recent years; estimates have pointed to a 43 percent price decline between 2013 and 2018.9 In May 2019, however, companies confirmed an increase in prices for mobile service plans, with the scale of the change ranging between 5 and 12 percent.10 In April 2020, amid the pandemic, IFT reached an agreement with the service providers that use Red Compartida infrastructure to offer special “stay home” plans with 10 GB of data at a low cost.11

Smartphones have gained popularity thanks to a decrease in prices for mobile phone usage and promotions that narrow the price gap between basic phones and smartphones.12 At the same time, digital rights advocates such as R3D have long highlighted the possible effects of zero-rating offers, warning that such practices can create an unequal ecosystem for consumers.13

Other initiatives to increase connectivity have faced challenges in reducing the digital divide.14 Covering the country’s access gaps is one of the top priorities promoted by López Obrador’s administration. In 2019, the new Internet para Todos (Internet for All) program received increased funding compared with the program implemented under the previous government, called México Conectado (Connected Mexico).15 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.16 The public access points that remained under the new administration were renamed Centros de Inclusión Digital (Centers for Digital Inclusion); however, in April 2020 the Ministry of Communications and Transport terminated the contracts of 45 percent of the employees in these centers, anticipating the cancelation of the public trust that has funded them (see A1).17

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 connectivity during the coverage period. Article 190 of the 2014 Telecommunications Law, however, authorizes the “appropriate authority” within the government to request the suspension of telephone service in order to “halt the commission of crimes.”1

Although most of the backbone infrastructure is privately owned, the state-owned company Telecomunicaciones de México (Telecomm) plays an important role, having taken over fiber-optic infrastructure from the CFE at the end of 2014.2 Mexico’s first internet exchange point (IXP) was set up by KIO Networks in April 2014. It increases efficiency and reduces costs for Mexican internet service providers (ISPs) by helping to manage traffic across networks.3 In 2018, the Ministry of Communications and Transport and the Yucatan state government signed an agreement to build the next IXP in Mexico,4 but no updates were provided during the coverage period.

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

Reforms over the past decade have sought to improve the information and communication technology (ICT) market by reducing market dominance and barriers to investment. Under 2013 constitutional amendments, telecommunications companies that control more than 50 percent of the market are considered “preponderant” players and subject to antitrust measures by the regulator.1 New customers have started to be offered services via the wholesale wireless network Red Compartida, which is intended to spur competition. The Mexican company GuruComm was the first to launch its retail services via the Red Compartida in August 2018, followed by Internet ON from Dish.2

Despite some changes, however, the ICT market remains dominated by a few players. In late 2019, the mobile internet provider with the largest market share was América Móvil with 69.8 percent, followed by AT&T with 17 percent and Telefónica with 11.3 percent. In the fixed-line broadband market, América Móvil led with 50.6 percent, followed by Grupo Televisa with 24.3 percent and Megacable MCM with 15.7 percent.3

In 2017, the Supreme Court canceled 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 that year, in fulfillment of the Supreme Court’s decision, IFT established the interconnection fee that rival companies have had to pay to América Móvil since January 2018.5 Critics perceived the ruling as a win for the dominant player against the telecommunications reforms, and competitors warned about its impact on prices,6 though as of July 2020 the effects remained unclear.

As the Mexican state becomes a telecommunications service provider through CFE Telecomunicaciones e Internet para Todos, which has been allowed to operate as a public not-for-profit company (as opposed to the public-private partnerships that operate Red Compartida and would have operated Red Troncal), civil society groups have raised concerns regarding the lack of checks and balances in allowing the state to be both a service provider and a regulator.7

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 the 2013 constitutional reform, the government established IFT as a new autonomous regulatory agency to increase the transparency of media regulation.1 IFT has the legal mandate to act as an antitrust body, protecting the industry against monopolistic practices. In June 2020, Ricardo Monreal, the leader of López Obrador’s party in the Senate, proposed merging IFT with two other regulators that oversee energy and antitrust issues, and López Obrador expressed his support for this initiative.2 Civil society organizations published a statement decrying the proposal, arguing that it aims to reduce the independence of a regulator whose creation many organizations had advocated for two decades.3

The most notable steps IFT has taken were its declarations in 2014 that América Móvil and Televisa were dominant companies in the telecommunications and television sectors, respectively. However, it has received criticism for its role in reversing some antitrust measures and for complying with the Supreme Court decision to revoke the designation of Televisa as a dominant company in subscription television.4 In November 2019, the Supreme Court revoked further IFT rulings on Televisa, specifically its obligation to carry other television companies’ content on its devices.5

In 2019 and 2020, IFT received criticism for its draft Traffic Management and Internet Administration Guidelines, which civil society actors claimed was an attempt to undermine net neutrality in Mexico (see B6).6 In 2017, IFT was also criticized for authorizing América Móvil’s Telcel to exploit 60 MHz of the 2.5 GHz spectrum band.7 Associations such as the Telecommunications Law Institute (IDET) and the Competitive Intelligence Unit (CIU) argued 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.8

B Limits on Content

Independent digital outlets provide information on sensitive topics, and online mobilization for civic activism continued during the coverage period, though some self-censorship persisted. Several outlets were pressured to remove critical content. Journalists who scrutinized the government faced coordinated online harassment, which was fueled in part by President López Obrador’s harsh rhetoric against the press. Media outlets were threatened with administrative penalties and urged to “respect” provisions of the March 2020 Declaration of Health Emergency, which came in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

There has been no documented evidence that the government or other actors block or filter the internet or 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, though a handful of cases have pointed to users abusing the complaint systems on social media to censor politically relevant content.

There are also occasional reports of legal threats meant to compel 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 had received threats of legal action for trademark infringement from representatives of Grupo Altavista, regarding a report that mentioned information about alleged financial fraud.1 In December 2019, Página 66 received from its hosting provider Digital Ocean another request to remove the relevant article, on the grounds that it violated Grupo Altavista’s and its chief executive’s right to honor. Digital Ocean followed up with a takedown request in January 2020, took down the entire Página 66 website, and restored it in February 2020 without the article in question.2 The complaint sent to Digital Ocean, which hosts Página 66 on a US-based server, was grounded in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).3

In October 2019, Lorenza Sigala of the print, digital, and radio outlet Expreso de Hermosillo received a phone call from a public official asking her to delete one of her social media posts, claiming that “it is not in the outlet’s interest, nor in the prosecutor’s.”4 Also that month, journalist Héctor Llorame published a Twitter thread about inconsistencies in the registered office addresses of local legislators, some of which led to vacant lots or nonexistent locations; he had shared photographs of his freedom of information requests to the state government of Puebla. His account was blocked and his content, including the government documents, were removed, on the grounds that they were privacy violations.5

Article 19 analyzed 281 content-removal requests from state-level authorities in 2019 and found that most were related to content on Facebook, and were not accompanied by court orders. The largest number of requests centered on content of a sexual nature.6

Facebook restrictions between July and December 2019 included 54 pieces of content related to a video of a shooting at a school in Monterrey; 2,150 items in response to reports from the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks; one item related to violations of electoral law; and 14 items that had been reported for defamation.7 Twitter registered three removal requests with a court order and 19 by government agencies, the police, or others in the first half of 2019; the platform said no content was withheld.8 In the second half of 2019, Google registered three removal requests covering 17 items; stated reasons included copyright, defamation, and privacy and security.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

Despite some ambiguity in the legal and regulatory framework, it and the independent courts offer significant safeguards against arbitrary or opaque restrictions on content, and recent attempts to impose new restrictions have faced strong opposition.

In 2017, the Supreme Court declared that blocking an entire website because of alleged copyright violations was unconstitutional, finding it to be a disproportionate measure that infringed on freedom of expression.1

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

There are currently no laws dealing with the so-called right to be forgotten (RTBF), but organizations have raised concerns about the murky use of RTBF-type requests to censor sensitive information.4 According to an interview with the founder of Eliminalia, a company dedicated to eliminating negative content from the web, the firm’s clients in Mexico doubled between 2015 and 2017.5 Plans for a bill that would support and strengthen RTBF claims were announced in December 2019, but López Obrador declared at a February 2020 press conference that he was opposed to the measure,6 and it had yet to be formally introduced as of August.

Copyright law and the DMCA have been used to take down journalistic content and outlets (see B2).

A Federal Copyright Law reform bill was introduced in April 2020 to add a special tax on digital devices; the revenue would then be redistributed to copyright holders as a form of compensation. The bill also proposed the elimination of the fair-use exemption from the law.7 In June 2020, Senator Ricardo Monreal announced another reform related to the implementation of the United States, Mexico, and Canada Agreement (USMCA). Civil society organizations criticized the copyright provisions in the trade deal for their potential to promote censorship online by establishing a notice and takedown procedure in Mexican law.8 The two chambers of Congress approved the USMCA reform on June 29 and 30, 2020, in time for the agreement to take effect on July 1.9 A coalition of organizations condemned the fast-tracked approval and announced plans to appeal the change.10

In April 2018, digital rights groups raised alarm about an approved change to the Federal Copyright Law that would allow courts to order precautionary measures against content suspected of copyright infringement. Activists decried the potential repercussions of this change for 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.11

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 2.002 4.004

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because digital outlets provide independent information on politically and socially sensitive topics, despite the persistence of harsh rhetoric from the president and self-censorship in relation to organized crime.

Independent digital outlets provide information about key political and social issues (see B7), though a climate of violence and harassment against the media contributes to some self-censorship, especially in states that are heavily afflicted by violent crime (see C7).1 Local media tend to refrain from reporting on drug trafficking and organized crime. The most recent 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

Article 19’s annual report for 2019 documented cases of harassment against journalists that were intended to drive them to self-censorship, perpetrated by both public officials and private individuals who were encouraged by López Obrador’s regular attempts to discredit journalists. For example, Peniley Ramírez from the newspaper El Heraldo began to receive sustained online harassment after she conducted an investigation of one of López Obrador’s social programs, which led her to become more subdued and cautious about her social media posting. In another case during the coverage period that contributed to a climate of self-censorship among online journalists, Monserrat Ortiz of the television channel ADN 40 published testimonials from three women about domestic violence by the same alleged perpetrator; she then received a threat from the individual’s personal Facebook account.3 Irving Pineda of TV Azteca received hundreds of threats after asking López Obrador at a press conference whether the government had negotiated the release of a criminal cartel leader’s son with cartel members.4

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 online trolls and automated “bot” accounts targeting discussions and reports that are critical of the government, political parties, or politicians.1 During the 2018 election campaign, journalists and researchers observed how bots and hired trolls were being used to spread propaganda and disinformation, either promoting or attacking certain candidates on social media.2 Further studies documenting coordinated social media attacks were published during the coverage period, and hashtags were manipulated in attempts to discredit large protests (see B8).

Commonly dubbed “Peñabots” under the presidency of Peña Nieto, automated accounts were used prolifically by his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) during the 2012 election campaign, and 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 2018.4 Women candidates also reported smear campaigns against them that included manipulated video and images, and in some cases discriminatory or sexualized content.5

During López Obrador’s first months in office, his supporters launched social media campaigns against journalists and users who questioned or criticized the president. A February 2019 report by Signa Lab detailed how a seemingly coordinated network of Twitter accounts formed by “semibots,” trolls, and fans spread attacks against government critics, using hashtags such as #chayoteros (referring to journalists who take bribes) or #PrensaFifi (snobbish press).6 The operation was known as #RedAMLOve, and in May 2019 Twitter suspended a network of accounts using that hashtag as part of the company’s international effort to combat coordinated inauthentic behavior on its platform.7

In May 2020, Signa Lab, Aristegui Noticias, and Article 19 published a joint investigation on coordinated attacks perpetrated through Twitter accounts associated with Notimex, the official Mexican news agency. These posts aimed to discredit a strike organized by Notimex workers, and they were also aimed at former Notimex journalists.8 After publishing details about the WhatsApp groups used by Notimex to coordinate the attacks, Article 19 and Aristegui Noticias received further reports about other channels and instances in which Sanjuana Martínez, the head of Notimex, called for harassment aimed at journalists who were critical of the agency.9 As a result of this research, a coalition of universities, communications associations, and civil society organizations known as the Network for Freedom of Expression and against Violence against Communicators issued a statement calling for an investigation into the use of public funds to attack journalists.10 No investigation had been announced as of August 2020.

President López Obrador has increased media interactions by introducing daily live-streamed press conferences, but he has used them to speak out against certain journalists and news outlets that he views as hostile. 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 was already in the public domain.11 A social media campaign against the newspaper with the hashtag #NarcoReforma became a trending topic.12 In May 2020, the newspaper received a bomb threat in response to a video posted on its website that showed the evolution of the president’s messaging during the COVID-19 crisis.13 López Obrador condemned this threat while attempting to discredit Reforma, calling it a conservative outlet that was “opposed to transformation because they want to maintain the regime of corruption and privilege that ruled over Mexico for a long time.”14 Article 19 has documented 12 different cases of journalists being subjected to waves of harassment after asking expository questions at the presidential press conferences.15

In the spring of 2020, the federal government started holding daily live-streamed COVID-19 press conferences. However, after a journalist questioned the accuracy of government data on coronavirus cases, the Interior Ministry in April warned that the media would face administrative sanctions if they did not publicly express “respect for the provisions contained in the Declaration of Health Emergency,” which had been issued in March. Other outlets had already been threatened with administrative penalties for allegedly publishing false information.16

In a recent trend on social media, public officials have blocked critical journalists and outlets from following their accounts.17 Nevertheless, a court ruling set a positive precedent on this discriminatory practice: in March 2019, the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the state attorney general of Veracruz should unblock a journalist on his Twitter account. The journalist was covering issues related to human rights, violence, and disappearances in the state.18

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.19 Fact-checking initiatives have sought to counter false information presented through official channels and other media. SPIN Taller de Comunicación Política, which fact-checked López Obrador’s daily press conferences, claimed that the president made 27,104 false claims in the first 563 days of his mandate.20 Verificovid focused on combating false information during the COVID-19 pandemic; independent journalists and medical doctors teamed up to offer digests of official communications, and to debunk false news and materials circulated online.21

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. Reliance on advertising purchases by public institutions renders independent media vulnerable to content manipulation or closure due to withdrawal of funding,1 although the former appears to be the more pernicious of the two trends.2 One “preferred tactic” for pressuring the media, noted in a study by SembraMedia, is the initiation of lengthy tax audits against outlets.3

In April 2018, Congress approved a Social Communication Law to regulate government spending on advertising.4 Critics of the law contend that it does little to change the status quo, as it lacks clear rules and facilitates discretionary public advertising.5 While López Obrador announced that he would halve the government’s budget for advertising,6 Congress raised the approved budget for 2019 compared with the amount approved in 2018, arguing that the increased amount would reflect half of the Peña Nieto administration’s actual expenditures.7 Media and press freedom groups continued to urge Congress to repeal the current law in favor of clearer criteria for the distribution of official advertisements.8

Some media outlets have found alternative sources of funding. The news site Pie de Página, for example, successfully raised over half a million pesos ($26,000) through a crowdfunding campaign to continue their operations without relying on government advertisements.9 As independent media increasingly draw revenue from crowdfunding and online subscriptions, attacks against these outlets have targeted their subscription processes. The online newspaper Animal Político was the target of five cyberattacks in May 2020, the last of which aimed to create a denial of service on its subscription page (see C8).10

Articles 145 and 146 of the 2014 Telecommunications Law establish protections for net neutrality. However, commercial agreements in practice allow differentiated prices depending on the destination of internet traffic. Service providers such as Telcel, Movistar, and AT&T offer zero-rating plans in which certain digital services like HBO, Netflix, WhatsApp, and social networking sites do not count toward a customer’s data allowance.11 In December 2019, IFT presented a draft policy on net neutrality, the Traffic Management and Internet Administration Guidelines, and opened a consultation process set to end in July 2020;12 the draft was criticized by a coalition of civil society organizations, which argued that it lacked transparency and would allow censorship, paid prioritization of traffic, and threats to user privacy (see B8).13

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 continue to emerge and operate, 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, an outlet from Guerrero that aims to question the state’s narrative regarding criminal violence.3 The digital outlet Animal Político has more than two million followers on Facebook and Twitter and is successfully experimenting with alternative forms of financing.4 The news site Pie de Página was launched in 2020 by the investigative journalism network Periodistas de a Pie.5

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 assaults, citizens make regular use of digital tools to raise awareness about human rights abuses related to violence in the country and to mobilize protests.

During the coverage period, a sustained movement against gender-based violence was organized on different online channels, leading to historic participation in street demonstrations and strikes on International Women’s Day in 2020.1 Building on hashtags such as #YoTambién (Me Too), #MiPrimerAcoso (My First Harassment), and #SiMeMatan (If I Am Murdered), feminist activists and collectives in Mexico, and across Latin America, have prominently used digital platforms to promote discussions about gender-based violence for the last several years. Increasingly, however, women who denounce abuses via online platforms face backlash in the form of threats or even physical violence (see C7).2 In its annual report covering 2019, Article 19 alleged that the Mexican government had violated feminist protesters’ rights by using official channels to push a narrative that portrayed them as criminals, arguing that this official framing permeated mainstream media coverage of their mobilizations.3

In June 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests against racism took place in the United States and around the world, Mexican activists organized online to denounce institutional racism, police brutality, and the repression of protests in wake of the murder of Giovanni López in Jalisco. López, a construction worker, was detained in early May, allegedly for not wearing a face mask in public during the COVID-19 crisis; he died from injuries in a hospital hours after his arrest. His case garnered public attention in June as the video of his arrest was watched over half a million times.

Outrage over López’s case was voiced via the hashtag #JusticiaParaGiovanni (Justice for Giovanni), which appeared in over half a million posts on June 3 and 4, 2020. Signa Lab’s network analysis of participation in these hashtags and events in Jalisco found that the hashtag initially denounced general police brutality and racism in Mexico, but was later used to denounce repression and police brutality pertaining to the recent protests specifically. The analysis also showed that suspicious accounts infiltrated the hashtag to defend Jalisco governor Enrique Alfaro amid friction between the federal and state governments—a case of “conversation appropriation” in which political interests hijack genuine social complaints.4

Mobilizations focused on internet freedom issues also occur in Mexico. After IFT presented its draft policy on net neutrality in December 2019, a civil society coalition responded with a campaign, “Salvemos Internet” (Let’s Save the Internet), that criticized the draft for a lack of transparency and privacy protections as well as provisions that could enable censorship and paid prioritization of traffic (see B6).5

C Violations of User Rights

Mexico remained one of the most dangerous environments in the world for online journalists and bloggers. Surveillance tools including IMSI catchers and geolocation tracking were deployed during the coverage period, and a number of the directory authorities for Tor, a platform used for secure and anonymous communication, were blocked. Media outlets continued to face cyberattacks, though they were not attributed to state actors.

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 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 the data-retention provisions of the 2014 Telecommunications Law; civil society groups had argued that they were 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, and the country ranks near the top in global surveys on impunity. According to Article 19, more than 99 percent of crimes against journalists went unpunished between 2010 and 2019.1 The 2012 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists established an institutional body of government officials and civil society members tasked with protecting the threatened individuals.2 However, activists have denounced a lack of coordination between federal and state authorities, failure to address gender issues, poor capacity for reacting to the various forms of violence, and continued impunity in practice.3

Human rights groups have also expressed concerns about the 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 that it was unconstitutional.4 Among other provisions, the law had 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 The legislation also stated that information gathered through compliance with the law would be considered of national security interest, meaning public access would be restricted.

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, there are still criminal defamation statutes at the state level.1 Provisions from both the criminal and civil codes continue to be used to intimidate journalists, including those who publish online. For example, Article 333 of the state penal code in Chihuahua 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

In the first half of 2020, there were many discussions about possible criminal law reforms to address hate speech, discrimination, terrorism, and misinformation at the federal and state levels, all of which were opposed by freedom of expression and digital rights organizations. In January, Article 19 decried the public draft of a federal bill that included crimes of honor, crimes against public order and peace, and “terrorism” defined as the use of digital tools to exercise pressure on authorities.3 In April, the group also condemned a criminal code reform bill introduced in the state of Puebla that would create sanctions for individuals who spread “false news” in times of emergency.4

In June 2020, lawmaker Lorenia Valles Sampedro introduced a bill to reform the federal criminal code to cover hate speech and the incitement of hostility, discrimination, and violence; civil society organizations published a position paper against this initiative, citing its vague language and arguing that only certain types of speech should be addressed through criminal law, due to the potential harm to freedom of expression.5 Similarly, days after the introduction of Valles Sampedro’s bill, López Obrador proposed legislation that, if approved, would reform the same article of the federal criminal code by lengthening the sentences for discrimination and introducing new types of offenses.6

In 2019 there was a movement toward legislation to criminalize the sharing of intimate images without consent. The proposed measure is known as Ley Olimpia, named after the Mexican activist who organized to seek justice in her own case.7 In December 2019, the Mexico City congress passed a local reform on the issue; to date, 210 of the 32 states have passed laws in line with Ley Olimpia.8 Gender and digital rights organizations have published analyses of these reforms, raising concerns about disproportionate punishments, potential censorship, and lack of reparations for victims.9

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

Threats of legal action 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

Online journalists also continue to risk arbitrary arrest while covering protests or political events. In February 2020, Article 19 reported that journalist Jorge Contreras Sánchez of the news site Continuamos.mx was detained by police in the state of Cuautitlán Izcalli while recording officers allegedly extorting money from a driver. While Contreras was ultimately released by a judge, he received a verbal warning and was ordered to sign a statement that he had left the court in good physical condition.2 The previous month, Cinthia Alvarado, a journalist for the news site Portal Revolución, was detained by police in the city of Tapachula Chiapas while covering a protest. Alvarado and two other journalists were also physically attacked by the police.3 During the same month, three online journalists attempting to report on violent clashes between security forces and civilians in the state of Michoacán were later arbitrarily detained by police. During their arrest, in which one of the journalists became separated from the others, they were beaten, had their equipment confiscated, and were threatened with torture. They were released after three hours.4

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3.003 4.004

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because access to seven directory authorities for Tor, a popular tool that enables secure and anonymous communication, was blocked during the coverage period.

A 2008 requirement that mobile phone users register with the government was revoked in 2012, and there are no longer any official rules limiting anonymity or the use of encryption in Mexico.

However, in May 2020, a group of researchers and Tor node administrators in Mexico revealed that Telmex, the country’s largest telecommunications provider, had blocked access to seven of Tor’s 10 directory authorities since at least 2019. Tor is widely used by journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico to communicate securely with their contacts.1 Telmex argued that it had no intention of blocking access to the Tor application itself, stating that the targeted directories had been flagged for their role in the distribution of the WannaCry ransomware attack, which was active in 2017; the researchers countered that the blocking stretched back to 2015 and was still in place at the time of their report. In June, the researchers and administrators confirmed that Telmex had lifted the blocking.2

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 government has used the poor security situation in the country as a justification for expanding surveillance powers with little accountability and oversight. A series of revelations have exposed abuses of digital spying technologies that were meant for law enforcement purposes, but these violations have not been thoroughly investigated. Moreover, legal research has shown lack of compliance with federal transparency requirements for government surveillance: not all state laws have been adjusted to match the federal transparency law, executive agencies have not met their obligations under the law, surveillance-related freedom of information requests have been improperly denied, and oversight bodies have been inconsistent in their interpretations of the law.1

By March 2019, Citizen Lab and Mexican partner organizations had documented at least 25 cases in which journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures were targeted with the spying software Pegasus. In November 2018, it was reported that colleagues of the journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas had received infection attempts just days after his assassination in 2017.2 In March 2019, Citizen Lab also reported that the journalist’s widow was targeted in 2017.3 Pegasus, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, is sold exclusively to governments, and the attacks in Mexico have especially targeted those investigating government involvement in corruption or human rights abuses.4 The report by Citizen Lab concluded that NSO’s government-exclusive espionage tools may have been used by a government entity to serve interests other than national security or law enforcement.5 Between 2011 and 2017, at least three Mexican government agencies spent some $80 million on such spyware.6

In October 2019, WhatsApp initiated a lawsuit against NSO Group for its connection to cyberattacks on 1,400 people, including activists in Mexico.7 A US judge ruled in July 2020 that the case could move forward.8

Mexican civil society groups, international human rights organizations, and experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations have called on the government to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of illegal electronic spying.9 However, human rights groups contend that the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) is not the best equipped to investigate the matter, given that it was allegedly involved in the purchase of spyware.10 In May 2018, a judge ordered the PGR to investigate with due diligence and to accept evidence submitted by victims of Pegasus;11 the investigation had not advanced by the end of Peña Nieto's term in November 2018.12 In December of that year, a court ordered INAI, the privacy watchdog, to invalidate a resolution that allowed the PGR to hide the names, positions, and signatures of the individuals who participated in the acquisition of Pegasus.13 In February 2019, INAI received evidence showing the renewal of licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017 for Pegasus software belonging to the PGR.14 However, in the same month, the PGR 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 the digital rights advocacy group R3D.15

On November 6, 2019, López Obrador stated at a press conference that his administration does not use Pegasus, and that surveillance would no longer be a government practice during his mandate.16 However, in May 2020 three nongovernmental groups—the Fake Antenna Detection Project, the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), and SeguDigital—found 21 active IMSI catchers in central Mexico, three of which were acquired during López Obrador’s administration, which contracted L3Harris Technologies’ services for over $1 million in March, April, and June 2019. The IMSI catchers can be used to intercept mobile data from all devices in the immediate area.17

Previous reports from 2015 revealed that Mexico was the biggest client of the Italian 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.18 The media outlet Animal Político that year accused the state government of Puebla of using Hacking Team products to target the political opposition and journalists.19

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

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

Reforms to the criminal procedure code that year required a judicial warrant for government entities to access geolocation data, except in some exceptional situations, such as kidnapping cases in which a person’s life or physical integrity is in danger.4 The 2016 Supreme Court ruling also provided some clarification as to which authorities can access user data; they included federal prosecutors, 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. The researchers were unable to identify the authorities that made more than a third of these requests. Telcel and Telmex delivered information in 100 percent of the cases, while Movistar complied with 83.4 percent of requests and AT&T with 61.5 percent.5

During the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, the Mexico City government announced that telecommunications companies would grant it access to data from mobile service towers to allow the Digital Agency for Public Innovation to monitor the population’s general adherence to stay-at-home orders.6 The agency said it had begun collecting the aggregate and anonymized data on March 25.7 Civil society organizations called on the government to ensure that any technological measures it deployed to combat COVID-19 also respected human rights; the groups questioned the authorities’ ability to analyze such data in nondiscriminatory ways while preserving privacy and yielding useful information.8

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 organized criminal groups, members of local governments, and other actors have continued to put journalists’ lives at risk and curtail the safe practice of independent journalism. Conditions in the state of Veracruz are especially severe. Mexico has remained the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists and one of the most dangerous in the world.1 In 2019, Article 19 and the network #Rompeelmiedo documented 609 aggressions against journalists, including intimidation and harassment (27.26 percent), threats (23.65 percent), and physical attacks (10.18 percent). Of these aggressions, 170 were perpetrated through online means; the majority of those consisted of threats (40.59 percent) and intimidation and harassment (36.47 percent). The victims of the 170 online aggressions included 57 women and 25 media outlets.2

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented a total of 37 murders of journalists in the country in connection with their work between 2009 and July 2020.3 According to CPJ, 11 journalists were murdered in 2019, including at least five in reprisal for their work.4 Digital reporters continue to be among the victims. The murder of news website editor Víctor Fernando Álvarez Chávez was confirmed in April 2020, some 10 days after he went missing. He had founded the outlet Punto x Punto Noticias in Acapulco, where he did political reporting.5 In March 2020, María Elena Ferral Hernández, founder of the digital outlet Veracruz Quinto Poder, died after being attacked as she walked to her car, which bore the logo of her news site. In 2018, she had denounced the severe harassment and threats she received on social media in response to her publications.6 Ferral’s daughter, who replaced her as editor following her death, was herself attacked by gunmen in May 2020, surviving with the help of police assigned to protect her.7 In August 2019, Nevith Condés Jaramillo, the editor of the online newspaper El Observatorio del Sur, was found murdered after receiving two death threats for his reporting.8

Other forms of physical attack against online journalists were reported frequently during the coverage period, as were online death threats.9 In May 2020, a car belonging to Marco Antonio Duarte Vargas, editor of the online news outlet Ciudad Obregón Sin Censura, was firebombed in the state of Sonora. Duarte had published reporting on corruption and abuse of power by local authorities, and he had been forced to close an earlier news site after receiving death threats in December 2019.10 In July 2019, investigative journalist Lydia Cacho, cofounder of the online outlet Sin Embargo and the author of prominent investigative reports on child trafficking, gender violence, and drug cartels, was the victim of a robbery; three assailants took various devices she used for reporting and killed her dogs. Cacho has repeatedly been subjected to threats and acts of violence since 2004, when she published Los Demonios del Edén, a book about the circulation of child sexual abuse images among politicians and businessmen in Mexico; in 2012, she received death threats through the speakers of her home security system.11

Online gender-based aggression has become a critical problem in the country, affecting women journalists, politicians, feminists, and organizations. Activist groups have documented online hate speech against women who denounce any type of violence using social media; coordinated efforts to take down websites and social media profiles and to delete the posts of women activists, organizations, and collectives; and smear campaigns, extortion attempts, and nonconsensual dissemination of intimate content that similarly target women.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? 1.001 3.003

Score Change: The score improved from 0 to 1 because there was less evidence than in previous years that state actors engaged in cyberattacks against media outlets.

Technical attacks have become a central tactic in attempts to suppress freedom of expression in Mexico, and perpetrators are generally able to act with impunity.1 The assaults take many forms, ranging from DDoS attacks to hijacking and malware infections.2

Journalists and activists have frequently reported cases of digital surveillance and cyberattacks, often in retaliation for their scrutiny of corruption or human rights–related issues. In May 2020, online news outlet Animal Político was the target of five cyberattacks, the last of which aimed to create a denial of service on its subscription page (see B6).3 During 2019, Article 19 documented five cases of attacks targeting the digital platforms and computer systems of journalistic outlets, and two cases of intervention in communications.4

Several attacks were recorded in the run-up to the 2018 elections. Oraculus, a website focused on that year’s balloting, reported that it was attacked ahead of the July 1 vote. Users were unable to access content on the site, including predictive polling data.5 A DDoS attack also brought down a website of the opposition National Action Party on June 12, coinciding with the publication of documents that were critical of López Obrador.6

On Mexico

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    62 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    61 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    No