Analysis of the Digital Identity and Citizenship Bill in Mexico

On April 30, 2020, the second Open Parliament “Analysis of the Digital Identity and Citizenship Initiative” was hosted by congressional representative Javier Ariel Hidalgo Ponce. This forum aimed to foster an inclusive dialogue with specialists to enrich the legislative process and discuss the proposed bill on digital citizenship and identity. Executive Director Centro Latam Digital Judith Mariscal participated in this discussion and presented recommendations on the bill.

The new dynamics of information and communication technologies (ICT), based mainly on massive data processing, consolidation of virtual collaboration platforms, as well as the expansion of mobile connectivity, promote new forms of innovation to resolve public problems. These technological advances promote collaboration and information exchanges between different social actors and public entities.

In terms of citizen participation, digital technologies make possible the implementation of open government schemes, based on principles of transparency and access to public information, that are capable of empowering citizens and thus promoting the strengthening of democracy. For the provision of public goods, they facilitate management of electronic procedures and services and promote monetary transactions between the government and citizens through digital systems. With regards to social policy, the use of digital citizenship would make it possible to identify the target population and potential beneficiaries. At the same time, by integrating social programs with the use of electronic banking, it would be possible to transfer resources with greater efficiency and security.

However, the design of the law must contemplate three main challenges, which, if not resolved, could have consequences that are detrimental to citizens. Firstly, the risk of widening social gaps in the context of the digital divide in Mexico. Although there is an increasing use of ICT services, particularly mobile, there is still a major infrastructure deficit – especially among rural populations – as well as a lack of affordability and training in the use of digital tools, especially amongst the population with low levels of schooling and older adults. In other words, if there is no strategy to face this challenge in the medium term, digital id systems could foster exclusion and become a new factor contributing to widening existing social gaps.

Furthermore, factors such as privacy, data protection and citizen trust should be considered priority. A critical issue to be resolved is the possible tension between the guarantee of access to basic rights and the protection of personal data. This discussion refers to the fact that although the use of digital citizenship could bring great benefits in terms of the allocation of resources amongst vulnerable populations, a possible undesired effect may be that access to social programs is conditioned to the use of sensitive personal information. On the other hand, if the security mechanisms for citizens are not specified, it is possible that sensitive data will be used for purposes other than those that originally intended. This risk is especially high for vulnerable populations, since the misuse of information can result in discriminatory acts in labor matters or access to financial services. However, the violation of the protection of personal data does not limit its consequences to this population group, but may also result in the misuse of data related to the health of citizens or possible leaks that lead to an abuse of power by authorities. Therefore, it must be noted that even countries with a high degree of government digitization – such as Estonia – have seen cyber attacks that jeopardize the privacy of citizens.

Finally, it is necessary to take into account the resolution of these issues through intergovernmental coordination, since the implementation of digital citizenship must consider collaboration between the National Electoral Institute, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Public Security, the National Institute of Access to Information, the Ministry of Communications and Transportation and the Federal Institute of Telecommunications, among other entities. A series of comprehensive measures could be designed that go beyond data collection and that make it possible to take advantage of current intergovernmental efforts, with a focus on cybersecurity, privacy, personal data protection, coverage and deployment of infrastructure, as well as the quality regulation and access to telecommunication services.

The use of biometric data stands out. Firstly, its specific regulation must be included in the current Data Protection Law; Similarly, the implementation of its use in an identification document must be carried out in strict adherence to the principles of decentralization, transparency and security, and uphold the interoperability of the databases without affecting citizens’ right to privacy.

In summary, digital identity offers great benefits since it contributes to the universal access to public services, strengthens citizen participation and enables the efficient allocation of public resources to vulnerable populations. However, its implementation must reconcile the tensions that exist between the right to identity, the right to privacy and access to one’s digital citizenship. Thus, the call is to deepen these aforementioned specificities in the Law, in order to avoid ambiguities that give rise to interpretations that result in actions that go against the original objectives of the mandate.