Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Mexican journalists accuse government of spying on them through their phones

Mexican journalists accuse government of spying on them through their phones

In their new report - "Government Spy: Systematic monitoring of journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico" - the Citizen Lab and Article 19 assert that all evidence points towards the Mexican government itself being behind the espionage.

Pegasus was developed and is sold exclusively to governments by the NSO Group, an Israeli cybersecurity company that requires as part of its contract an "explicit agreement" that the tool only be used against criminal groups and terrorists, The New York Times reported.

"If you click on the link, it downloads a software. that basically takes over your phone", said The New York Times' Mexico bureau chief, Azam Ahmed, who co-wrote a story, also released Monday, with details about several of the 12 people targeted. Once activated, "it's game over", said John Scott Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab.

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The use of the software was so sloppy - 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.

But instead of being used to track suspected criminals, the targets allegedly included investigative journalists, anti-corruption activists and even lawyers.

"The agents of the Mexican state, far from doing what they should be doing legally have used our resources, our taxes, our money to commit serious crimes", Aristegui said at a news conference in Mexico City, the BBC reported. "It makes it possible to control the flow of information as well as (allowing) abuses of power". It's unclear why Aristegui and the others were targeted, although she and numerous other targeted journalists were investigating the "Casa Blanca" scandal, in which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is accused of receiving a multimillion-dollar mansion from a favored contractor.

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Pena Nieto's office responded with a letter to the editor of the New York Times.

But upon further reflection he changed his mind "because spying opens the door to go farther: the intimidation, the harassment, the censorship, the firings, the beatings, the abductions, the kidnappings, the disappearances, the murders, the impunity that makes it likely that none of this is investigated, that none of it is punished", he said. Her 16-year-old son Emilio was also targeted, prompting her to ask: "What was the Peña Nieto government going to do with information on a young student?"

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

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