On June 19th, The New York Times (NYT) published a report entitled “We are the new enemies of the State: espionage of activists and journalists in Mexico” in which they reported that Mexican journalists and activists have been spied on with software acquired by the government, called Pegasus.
Pegasus software infiltrates phones and other devices to monitor every detail of a person’s daily life through their cell phone: calls, text messages, emails, contacts and calendars. You can use the microphone and phone cameras for surveillance. The company said they sell this application “exclusively to governments on the condition that it is used only to combat terrorists or criminal groups and drug cartels” and that only a federal judge can give permission to monitor private communications by demonstrating that there is a well-founded case to make that request. According to several ex-officials of the Mexican intelligence services “it is very unlikely that the government has received such judicial approval to hack the phones of activists and journalists.”
Eduardo Guerrero, a former member of Mexico’s National Security and Research Center, questioned: “How would it be possible for a judge to authorize monitoring of someone dedicated to the protection of human rights?”
There is no definitive evidence that the Mexican government was responsible because “Pegasus software leaves no trace of the hacker who used it. Even the maker, the NSO Group, points out that you cannot determine exactly who is behind the specific hacking attempts. But cyber experts can verify when the software has been used on a target’s phone, leaving them little doubt that the Mexican government or some corrupt internal group is involved.” In addition, the NSO Group said that, “the program can only be used by government agencies in which the technology has been installed.”
According to Animal Politico newspaper, among the targets are:
– “Agustin Pro. Center [for Human Rights]. During the period of attacks, the directors of the center were actively involved in the documentation and defense of serious cases of human rights violations such as the disappearance of Ayotzinapa student teachers or the alleged extrajudicial execution committed by the Army in Tlataya.”
– “Carmen Aristegui and her son, as well as Rafael Cabrera and Sebastian Barragan, received intrusion attempts via SMS from April 2015 until the middle of 2016. Months after the publication of the report of La Casa Blanca and during the dissemination of other articles of possible corruption. “
– “Carlos Loret de Mola. He was the target of at least eight intrusion attempts since August 2015, the month in which the journalist published the first column of several related to the alleged extrajudicial execution in Tanhuato.
– “On May 25, 2016, Salvador Camarena, director of the journalistic research area of this organization, received an attempted intrusion. It was a day after that organization in collaboration with Animal Political revealed the report The Ghost Companies of Veracruz that ended with the resignation and subsequent arrest of former governor Javier Duarte.
– “Juan Pardinas and Alexandra Zapata of the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness were victims of intrusion attempts, in the period in which they promoted several investigations into alleged acts of corruption, and the promotion of ‘Law 3 of 3’, for officials to declare assets which they possess publicly. “
The federal government responded in “a three-paragraph statement to the editor of the New York Times, where it officially says that “there is no evidence” that Mexican government agencies are responsible for espionage and asked those spied on to report the alleged intrusion.” Faced with this response, journalists and defenders who had been spied on filed a complaint for possible illegal intervention of communications with the PGR but doubt that it will have results since the government would have to be judge and part of this case.
Activists demand the PGR investigate espionage – Periodico Proceso Photo: @Benjamin Flores
In protest over the case #GovernmentEspía, on June 23rd, journalists and human rights defenders were handed themselves over symbolically to the Attorney General’s Office (PGR in its Spanish acronym). Denise Dresser, a politician and participant in the demonstration, said: “Just as it criminalized those who are the eyes and the conscience of the country, we come to give ourselves up as criminals of the same type. In full solidarity with Carmen Aristegui, with Juan Pardiñas, Daniel Lizarraga and Salvador Camarena, and with the other journalists and activists who were spied on. We expect an independent, international, clean, autonomous and credible investigation. That is something the Mexican State cannot do it on its own.”
For more information in Spanish:
5 claves para entender el caso del espionaje a periodistas con el software Pegasus (Animal Politico, a 20 de junio de 2017)
‘Somos los nuevos enemigos del Estado’: el espionaje a activistas y periodistas en México (The New York Times, a 19 de junio de 2017)
Proponen comisión especial para indagar espionaje a periodistas y activistas (Proceso, a 19 de junio de 2017)
En manos de PGR, denuncia por espionaje gubernamental a periodistas y activistas (Aristegui Noticias, a 20 de junio de 2017)
Activistas y periodistas en México son espiados con un software adquirido por el gobierno: NYT (Animal Politico, a 19 de junio de 2017)
Periodistas y defensores se entregan ante PGR en protesta por #GobiernoEspía (CentroProdh, a 26 de junio de 2017)
For more information from SIPAZ: