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II. Surveillance policy

Communications surveillance

The 1939 General Means of Communication Law (Ley de Vías Generales de Comunicación), provides penalties for interrupting communications and divulging secrets.1 Article 383 of this law provides that employees and civil servants devoted to the service of electric communications are obliged to keep absolutely secret the content of the messages whose transmission or reception has been under their supervision, or of those messages that they know by virtue of their job; as well as not to disclose any information pertaining to such messages other than the signatories, recipients or a competent authority.

The information transmitted through networks and telecommunication services shall be kept confidential except for the information that by its own nature is considered public or where there is an order from a competent authority (Article 49 of the Federal Telecommunications Law (Ley Federal de Telecomunicaciones).2

In 1981, the Penal Code was amended to include the interception of telephone calls by third parties. There are penalties for disclosing by any means, including personal mail, any secret or confidential communication known or received by virtue of employment, occupation or position, and the sanction may vary depending on whether the person renders professional or technical services, whether the person is a functionary or public official, or whether the secret disclosed or published may be of industrial character. There are sanctions that range from six to 12 years of imprisonment and fines of 300 to 600 days of salary for those who reveal, disclose, or unduly use to the detriment of others, information or images obtained during the interception of a private communication (Articles 210, 211 and 211bis of the Federal Criminal Code (Código Penal Federal).3

The Federal Law Against Organized Crime (Ley Federal contra la Delincuencia Organizada) passed on November 7, 1996, allows for electronic surveillance with a judicial order and details the conditions in which a judicial authority might authorize the interception of private communications (Articles 16-28).4 Authorities, officials and persons involved in the interception of private communications shall strictly keep the confidentiality of their content. Also, the law provides fines and imprisonment sanctions to public officials and employees that reveal, disclose or improperly use against the prejudice of another person information or images obtained in the course of an interception of private communications whether authorized or not. The law prohibits electronic surveillance in cases of electoral, civil, commercial, labor, or administrative matters and expands protection against unauthorized surveillance to cover all private means of communications, not merely telephone calls. The Federal Law against Organized Crime has been widely criticized by Mexican human rights organizations as violating Article 16 of the Constitution.5

According to the US State Department, although the law protects against unauthorized interceptions, searches and seizures, authorities occasionally disregarded legal prohibitions. The Mexican National Commission of Human Rights received 206 complaints of illegal searches from January to October 2006.6