Political Internet Censorship: a reality in Mexico (with a little help from the United States and GoDaddy.com)

by Digital Rights LAC on April 2, 2023

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The 1DMX web site was censored for three months, without explanation and with the cooperation of the Mexican and American government, along with the complicity of one of the largest domain name companies in the world. What are the implications of political censorship on the Internet for the rest of the countries in our region?

By, Luis Fernando Garcia*

On November 25th, 2013, the coordinator of National Digital Strategy announced the Mexican government’s commitment to “fully respecting freedom of expression on the Internet”. A week later, on December 2nd, 2013, the government censored the 1dmx.org website.

This website was created a year before, on December 2nd 2012, a day after Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president, a moment which was marked by police violence, arbitrary arrests and even a death involving the Federal Police. 1dmx.org was launched on December 1st 2012 as a portal for receiving, sorting and publishing videos, photographs and testimonies about human rights violations committed by the security forces.

A year later, the right to protest continued being systematically attacked in Mexico from the government and other sectors, so in the run up to the anniversary of the protests 1dmx.org decided to raise awareness on the erosion of civil liberties that have been occurring since December 1st 2012. They prepared themselves once again to document any likely abuses that could happen during the protests scheduled for December 1st, 2013.

However, on December 2nd, 2013, an email from GoDaddy.com (provider of the 1dmx.org domain registration) informed its board that the domain had been suspended for an alleged violation of the terms of use.

When requesting details about the alleged violation, GoDaddy.com reported in a second email that the suspension was actually part of an “ongoing police investigation” and stated that for further details they would have to contact a special agent of the Department of Homeland Security of the U.S. embassy in Mexico. When contacted, the embassy refused to provide any information.

Due to the participation of the U.S. embassy in Mexico, it was presumed that the request to suspend the domain came from a Mexican agency, therefore 1dmx.org requested a defense to fight this censorship in court, as it clearly violates the right to freedom of expression, and they pointed the finger towards ten authorities as the likely suspects behind the order.

The lawsuit was then supported by a federal judge so the authorities were obliged to submit a report, either accepting or denying that they ordered the censorship, and from their personal case, justifying whether it was constitutional. To date, more than a month after the deadline for the authorities to send their reports, eight authorities have denied ordering the censorship of 1dmx.org. However, the Ministry of Interior and National Security Commission (technically part of the Interior Ministry) have refused to submit the report.

At the same time, an employee of GoDaddy revealed that the agency that requested the censorship was the Specialized Technology Response Center (CERT), an agency that is part of the National Security Commission. On March 4th, 2014, 1dmx.org decided to make the case public by conducting a press conference denouncing censorship, through the op1d.mx website.

Less than 24 hours later, the 1dmx.org domain was reactivated without GoDaddy.com reporting any official reasons. The authorities of Mexico and the United States have not made any public statement about this situation. The impunity of the perpetrators is being hidden and maintained behind the silence of those involved. One thing is incontrovertible: 1dmx.org was banned for three months. Internet censorship in Mexico is not a hypothesis but a reality.

This case in turn raises several issues that are worth thinking about, especially in face of the discussions on Internet governance, where it is becoming more and more frequent to use or invoke words associated to the legal language of human rights.

On one hand, this case clearly shows a real intention of the government of Mexico to restrict freedom of expression and undermine the right to privacy on the Internet. This intention continues materializing in the way of legislative reforms, such as the Code of Criminal Procedure, that increases surveillance powers without adequate safeguards; the project of modifications concerning copyright, which decreases the exceptions and limitations of copyright on the Internet, criminalizes users and establishes a system of censorship for alleged copyright infringements on the Internet; the upcoming Telecommunications Act, which in a filtered version reveals the intentions of further expanding the surveillance powers of the state, enabling Internet censorship and seriously compromising net neutrality. It is clear that the language of the Mexican government over its alleged commitment to human rights on the Internet does not have credibility.

It must also be noted that 1dmx.org censorship would not have been possible without the cooperation of the government of the United States and GoDaddy.com. This fact makes it clear that beyond the usual speeches on “Internet freedom” and public relations statements, it is essential for governments and businesses to establish transparent processes, based on human rights principles in order to manage government requests that compromise freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet.

Repeatedly, it has been suggested that the power of both the United States and the major Internet companies, based within its territory, are actually a boon for free speech on the Internet. With the approval of many, it is often referred to as “imperialism of the first amendment”. Maybe it’s time to revisit those claims, because in cases like that of  1dmx.org, , it is precisely the extraterritorial element that has led to the possibility of there being an act of censorship (openly violating the prohibition of prior censorship unequivocally embodied in the Constitution of Mexico and the American Convention on Human Rights), and worse still, it has greatly hindered the possibilities of defense and punishment of those responsible.

The implications of this phenomenon should form an important part of the discussions on Internet governance which, until now, have been monopolized by voices and interests far removed from the reality of Latin America. If nothing is done, then events like the censorship of 1dmx.org will carry on affecting us and the erosion of freedoms that we have experienced on the streets of Mexico, will continue throughout the internet in Latin America.

*Luis Fernando Garcia is the lawyer of 1DMX and a specialist in digital rights.
@tumbolian

Translate: Franklin Roach