February 10, 2009

Fingerprints Fight Crime In Mexico

Fingerprints could point the way to cracking down on a wave of violent crime and kidnappings in Mexico.

The country will begin building a national register of mobile phone users that includes fingerprinting all customers.

It's an effort to catch criminals who use mobile phones to extort money and negotiate kidnapping ransoms.

The law requires mobile phone companies to build up a fingerprint database of their clients within the year. The government's idea is to match calls and messages to the phones' owners.

According to Reuters, government officials say hundreds of people are kidnapped in Mexico every year; the number of victims is rising sharply as drug gangs seek new income thanks to a recent army crackdown.

Lawmakers estimate there are 700 criminal bands in Mexico that use cell phones to extract extortion and kidnap ransom payments.

Most of Mexico's 80 million mobile phones are prepaid handsets with a given number of minutes of use that can be bought in stores without any identification.
Currently, more minutes can be added to the phones with the help of vendors on street corners.

However, the new register means new subscribers will now be fingerprinted when they buy a handset or phone contract.

Phone operators are also required to store all cell phone information like call logs, text, and voice messages for one year.

It's not clear whether the government would provide any funding to help companies with the mandate.