Mexico probes spyware attacks on journalists, activists
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican prosecutors have opened an investigation into the reported targeting of journalists, lawyers and activists with spyware that is sold exclusively to governments, authorities said Wednesday.
In a statement, the federal Attorney General’s Office said its division responsible for investigating crimes against freedom of expression will probe possible violations such as intercepting private communications and illegally accessing computing equipment.
Prosecutors will seek to analyze the targeted cellphone numbers and identify the source of the spyware attacks, and they will also contact the providers of the technology for information on which government entities have acquired it.
“The Attorney General’s Office energetically condemns the illegal intercepts of communications,” the statement said.
The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog group, reported this week that Pegasus spyware produced by Israel’s NSO Group had been used to target people who were investigating or criticizing the government at the time. They included prominent journalists Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola.
The targets were sent messages containing links that, if clicked on, opened up their communications devices to being exploited and spied upon.
Citizen Lab said circumstantial evidence indicated a Mexican government agency or agencies were the “likely” culprits but added there was no conclusive proof.
The federal government responded by saying it conducts intelligence operations to fight organized crime and for national security purposes but denying that it carried out any surveillance that was not properly approved by the courts.
Also Wednesday, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission urged the Defense Department, the Navy, the Attorney General’s Office and the Interior Department to abstain from using spyware against journalists, civil society groups and human rights defenders if they are in possession of the technology, as is presumed.
It also called on those government entities to instruct their employees not to make use of or make public any such information that may have been improperly collected.
“This violates their human rights to honor, to intimacy, privacy, to dignity and not to be bothered,” the commission said in a statement.
Citizen Lab said the use of the software was so brazen and obvious — sending multiple messages from the same domains or sending identically worded messages to multiple targets — as to suggest that the perpetrators wanted it to be known as a form of intimidation.
The report comes at a time when Mexican journalists and human rights defenders already feel under attack, with six journalists slain in the country since early March.
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