Salvadoran journalists, activists report spyware alerts

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — The Association of Salvadoran Journalists says some news outlets have reported receiving alerts Wednesday from Apple Inc. warning of “possible spying” on the part of the Salvadoran government.

The association said it had been informed of alerts sent to 23 journalists, including some at the investigative news outlet El Faro and newspapers like Diario El Mundo, El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Gráfica.

El Faro said that alerts had been sent to 12 of its journalists, two civic activists and two opposition politicians.

The civic group Cristosal said its executive director, Noah Bullock, had received an alert and called it “an attack on privacy, an attack on freedom of expression.”

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the alerts.

The New Ideas party of President Nayib Bukele — whose Twitter profile now jokingly lists him as “CEO of El Salvador” — brushed off the accusation.

New Ideas legislative leader Christian Guevara wrote in his Twitter account that “No matter how much the people at El Faro want it, there is no persecution. There is no repression. There is is no harassment. There is no censorship. There are no political prisoners. There is nothing. They should change their dealer, he’s selling the the stuff that makes you paranoid.”

On Tuesday, Apple announced it is suing Israel’s NSO Group, seeking to block the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire company from breaking into Apple’s products, like the iPhone.

Apple said in a complaint filed in federal court in California that NSO Group’s spyware, called Pegasus, had been used to attack a small number of Apple customers worldwide.

NSO Group has broadly denied wrongdoing and said its products have been used by governments to save lives.

It’s the latest blow to the hacking firm, which was recently blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department and is currently being sued by social media giant Facebook.

Concern among the Salvadoran opposition and outside observers has grown this year as Bukele has moved to consolidate power.

Voters gave the highly popular president’s party control of the congress earlier this year. The new lawmakers immediately replaced the members of the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court and the attorney general, leaving Bukele’s party firmly in control of the other branches of government.

The U.S. government in response said it would shift its aid away from government agencies to civil society organizations.