Sunday, 22 July, 2018

Mexican journalists, activists targeted with spyware

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto
Sandy Vega | 22 June, 2017, 08:43

Mexican authorities should ensure a prompt, thorough, and credible investigation into evidence that advanced spyware sold to the government targeted human rights defenders, journalists, and anti-corruption activists, Human Rights Watch said today. The spyware targeted prominent journalists, activists and lawyers investigating suspected human rights abuses by security forces, the disappearance of more than 40 students in 2014 and alleged government corruption.

Researchers at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab found that more than 76 SMS messages with links to Pegasus, a powerful digital spying tool, were sent to 11 targets between January 2015 and August 2016.

Mexican Journalist Loret de Mola delivers a message on a screen (L) as journalist Carmen Aristegui (4th L) listens with activists, human-rights lawyers and journalists during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico, June 19, 2017.

The software - called Pegasus - was reportedly created by Israeli cyberarms manufacturer NSO Group and sold to Mexican federal agencies under the condition that it be used to track terrorists and investigate criminals.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

In 2014 Ms Aristegui helped expose a scandal involving the wife of President Enrique Pena Nieto acquiring a $7m house from a government contractor.

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Mexico's government denied having spied on reporters and activists. A spokesperson for the group previously told the New York Times that it only offered its services to legitimate governments.

The software in question, known as Pegasus, effectively turns a target's cell phone into a pocket spy, accessing the user's communications, camera and microphone to enable a highly detailed level of surveillance. After repeated failed phishing attacks, the software was used to target her son - a minor who was attending school in the United States at the time.

Those restrictions would not prevent sales to the Mexican government, however, and there is a record of the roughly $80 million in NSO sales to various Mexican federal agencies, according to a report from The New York Times.

A Mexican government spokesman "categorically" denied the allegations.

Frank Smyth, executive director of the US group Global Journalist Security, called Citizen Lab's report a reminder of the perils that spyware represents in an increasingly wired world.

"The surveillance of journalists threatens press freedom in Mexico, and potentially the safety of their sources for sensitive stories", Carlos Lauría, CPJ's program director and senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from NY. The group sued the government, claiming that the tracking is illegal. There is also an urgent need for oversight and mechanisms to ensure that firms selling such tools are held accountable for abuses linked to their business, Human Rights Watch said.

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