Despite the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s stated opposition to his predecessor’s use of Pegasus spyware on journalists, the practice has continued since he took office, according to a new report.
Driving the news: The cellphones of at least two Mexican journalists and a human rights defender were infected with Pegasus software between 2019 and 2021, according to a report by a group of digital rights organizations, including the Network for defending digital rights and Article 19. López Obrador’s tenure began in 2018.
Catch up fast: The Pegasus spyware, created by the Israeli group NSO, exploits flaws in operating systems and software to access the content of mobile phones. It is only sold to governments and law enforcement, NSO Group said. NSO Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
- Several countries like Mexico and Saudi Arabia have used the software to target journalists, human rights defenders and health advocates.
- In 2017, the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto revealed that the administration of former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto used the software to spy on the country’s top journalists and activists.
- López Obrador criticized Peña Nieto’s use of spyware and repeatedly stated that his government would not use it.
Yes, but: The new report, published on Sunday, reveals that human rights defender Raymundo Ramos was targeted by Pegasus software at least three times between August and September 2020.
- The report also revealed that journalist and author Ricardo Raphael was also targeted three times between October 2019 and December 2020, and that an anonymous journalist who worked for the independent digital news site Animal Político was targeted in 2021. The two journalists worked on a story about corruption, the report says.
- The citizen lab worked with the groups to confirm the infections through forensic investigation.
What they say : If López Obrador “was not aware, it’s major, because it would suggest that the army spies without authorization,” Daniel Moreno, editorial director of Animal Político, said in a statement. press conference yesterday.
- “If the president knew, it’s major, because he repeated several times that he would not use this spyware,” he added.
- López Obrador said in his daily press briefing today that the government does not spy on people. “Opponents will find anything to make noise,” he said.
The big picture: The report follows the release of terabytes of data, including thousands of Mexican Armed Forces emails and military reports, by hacker group Guacamaya last week.
- The documents included copies of the Secretary of Defense’s 2019 purchase orders to use Pegasus, according to digital rights groups.
- López Obrador confirmed other documents released in the hack, including those related to his health, are legitimate.
- Two weeks ago, Guacamaya released thousands of similar documents from a Chilean armed forces hack, including internal warnings of possible excessive violence in the Araucanía region, where the military patrols areas Mapuche indigenous people under a declaration of emergency due to attacks on mining companies. The hack resulted in the resignation of the Chilean Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Guacamaya says it has also obtained documents from Peru, Colombia and El Salvador. A mid-September post by the group on the Enlace Hacktivista website said the cache was shared with organizations and media “who can legitimately do their bit based on the information.”