In Mexico, the largest telecommunications operator blocked a way to access the internet safely for five years. Few realized that Telmex had become a barrier to the development of alternative technological models, until a group of volunteer researchers found out.
This type of practice contrary to the exercise of rights Not only can they go against privacy but they can also have a very real impact in a country where freedom of expression is threatened. For example, Not being able to safely navigate the internet is a problem for journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico, as they often risk their lives doing their job. According to Reporters Without Borders, in 2020, Mexico was ranked 143 out of 180 countries in terms of freedom of the press.
That's why i I joined as a volunteer in 2016, together with the Magma Project and the Privacy and Anonymity Mechanisms project of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, to help people bypass censorship and maintain their privacy while using the internet, through participation of global cooperation initiatives such as the Tor network. We were guided by principles that propose the construction of infrastructures for the exercise of human rights, such as freedom of expression and privacy, and une of the things we did was share our internet connections to host nodes on the Tor network. For my part, I operated nodes in Canada.
When, at the end of 2015, the largest telecommunications operator in Mexico decided that it would not be possible to install nodes of the Tor network from Mexico, the node operators realized because their nodes in Mexico stopped working. Telmex denied the blockade measure when the group of volunteers asked to know the reason for the blockade in 2016.
Little by little I joined the volunteers' investigation about the blockade. Once we understood that there were 7 central IP addresses blocked for hosting the nodes of the Tor network, they went to the Consultative Council of the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT), a federal institution in charge of regulating the telecommunications sector, and we filed our respective complaint about the blocking practices by Telmex. However, a year passed and the IFT failed to investigate the blockade, much less to be able to explain what was happening, facts that its own Advisory Council recognized. He warned that they were a possible violation of net neutrality, through agreement CC / IFT / 311019/18.
As a last measure, the group of volunteers – who by now had become specialist analysts in network forensics – decided to present two technical and methodologically validated studies in academic publications and presented at conferences starting in 2018.
In 2020, we decided to tell the story at Global Voices Advox. Tor immediately made the story visible on his Twitter account:
In Mexico, the largest telecommunications operator blocks Tor: “Telmex blocked access to 7 of the directory authorities. In this context, the Tor network can be accessed as a user but the installation of nodes is not possible. ”Https://t.co/tcPgIiS5ZX
– The Tor Project (@torproject) May 29, 2020
In front of the media that took up the issue, Telmex replied in May 2020. Rmet that in effect they were blocking 7 IP addresses of the Tor network under the assumption that it was a mitigation measure against the Wannacry malware registered in 2017 and that its spread lasted four days.
With emotion, we, those now reconverted into analysts, upon hearing from Telmex and knowing that they recognized the blockade, with an attitude of cooperation and some certainties about the measure, and above all under the belief that a resolution could be reached, we communicate with the company to inform that if what they wanted was to mitigate Wannacry they were on the wrong track, and their measure was having an impact on the exercise of rights. For two reasons of funds:
- Wannacry signed up in 2017 and lasted for a couple of days. While the beginning of the blockade was registered at the end of 2015.
- The blocking of the 7 directions did not provide technical benefit for the mitigation of Wannacry, on the contrary, it affects the hosting of nodes from Mexico.
The day after the communication sent to Telmex, the 7 addresses were released from the blockade exercised at their discretion, without knowing the real motivations of the telecommunications operator to maintain the blockade for almost 5 years, since its justification did not coincide with the technical reality.
The Federal Telecommunications Institute for its part has not investigated the reasons why Telmex was carrying out the blockade. Institution that had network studies and measurements contributed by affected communities and researchers.
Finally, the Telmex network now has 5 nodes of the Tor network, which were installed after the blockade ended.
In order for us to carry out the investigations that helped to better understand the blocking measures of the largest telecommunications operator in Mexico, a common effort was key, that there was consensus on the research theories used, and to have spaces for discussion such as Global Voices. These were some of the most notable factors.
We consider that this class of blocks constitute an excess in the powers of an internet service provider, contrary to the principles of free choice, non-discrimination and traffic management that constitute the neutrality of the network according to article 145 of the Federal Telecommunications Law and Broadcasting, as well as the principles of quality in the service of the 146 of the same law, without mentioning that it could represent interference in the free exercise of the fundamental rights of privacy and anonymity.
It is difficult to know how much impact the irruption of computing and forensic analysis will have in the administration of justice and its usefulness in Latin America in the near future to show and report abuse. But there are strong indications that sketch as a dynamic and living workspace with its own threats, opportunities, and battles.