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Mexicans are using Twitter to avoid drunk-driving checkpoints. Drug cartels might be using it too. Does that justify restricting social networking sites?
“We have to regulate these websites to make sure there aren’t people breaking the law, making death threats or committing crimes via electronic means,” said Nazario Norberto, a federal representative and member of the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD).
Although Twitter asks users to abide by local laws, it and other social networking websites are currently completely unregulated and un-policed in Mexico, according to Norberto.
He says his bill is still in the works, but is modeled in part after a controversial Spanish bill that would allow judges to shut down websites that, according to the government, help people break copyrights and other laws.
The Spanish bill has already drawn fierce criticism from civil liberties groups. But Norberto denies his bill would restrict free speech. Instead, he argues, it would keep Twitteros from sharing private government data about the location of alcoholimetros.
“This isn’t public information because the federal police and public safety officials set up these roadblocks without telling anyone where they’ll be,” he insisted. “That’s the whole point.”
If passed, the bill would do much more than prevent Twitterers from revealing Breathalyzer checkpoints. It would also create a “cybernetic police force” to scour the web for crime, including kidnappings and drug activity, Norberto said.
His bill reflects a growing fear in Mexico that kidnapping rings and drug cartels are using social networking sites like Twitter to do business.
“It’s a way for drug cartels to locate targets,” said Ghaleb Krame, a security expert at Alliant International University in Mexico City.
“Facebook and Twitter have lots of weaknesses,” he said. “For instance, criminals can find out who are the family members of someone who has a high rank in the police. Perhaps they don’t have an account on Twitter or Facebook, but their children and close family probably do.”
Indeed, a recent string of killings suggest drug cartels are more web-savvy than the police. In December, a marine was killed during an operation to capture one of Mexico’s most wanted drug lords, Arturo Beltran Leyva, who also died in the shootout. Less than a week later, gunmen attacked the marine’s home, killing his mother and three relatives.
“How did they know where his parents lived?” Krame asked, suggesting that the cartel could have used websites like Facebook to track down the family. “Drug traffickers have an intelligence network and, as far as I know, at this moment in time it’s more effective than ours.”
While he seconds Rep. Norberto’s call for police to mine Twitter and Facebook for data, Krame said any attempt to restrict social networking websites would be a mistake.
“We have to play within the rules of the game,” Krame said. “These are open sources. If we try to regulate them we’re just going to end up like China battling Google.”
“We can’t go down that path,” he added. “It would be absolutely anti-democratic.”