On Monday June 18, the New York Times reported that human rights defenders, journalists and anti-corruption activists in Mexico have allegedly been spied on by the Federal Government with an Israeli software called Pegasus, capable of monitoring calls, text messages, e-mails, contacts, social media accounts and it can even use the cellphones’ microphones and cameras for surveillance.
According to the investigations of the New York based newspaper the people watched are lawyers who investigate the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa, an economist who helped draft an anti-corruption bill, journalists Carlos Loret de Mola and Carmen Aristegui; Juan Pardinas and Alexandra Zapata, of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO); journalists Daniel Lizarraga and Salvador Camarena, of the Mexican organization Against Corruption and Impunity; and an American attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse committed by the police.
The New York Times reports that the Mexican government has spent nearly 80 million dollars on spying programs of the Israeli-based NSO Group since 2011.
The Times confirmed, with the help of independent forensic analysts, that Pegasus has been used to monitor critics of the government as well as their families.
Juan Pardinas, CEO of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, who drafted and promoted the anti-corruption legislation popularly called Ley “3 de 3” (3 for 3), is one of those affected by these espionage activities. His iPhone and his wife’s were repeatedly targeted by the spying program, according to an independent forensic analysis.
Journalist Carmen Aristegui was another target of Pegasus: an operator who claimed to be calling on behalf of the US embassy in Mexico asked her to click on a link to solve an alleged problem with her visa.
As Aristegui refused to click on the link, in March, text messages were sent to Emilio, her 16-year-old son, with the intention of hacking his cellphone and then have access to Aristegui’s.
The New York Times reported that Pegasus software leaves no trace of the hacker who uses it.
Mario Patrón, director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights (Centro Prodh), was another espionage victim.
He received on his cell phone a text message related to the investigations of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) about a note he was waiting for, but the link led him to a blank page; that’s how the Pegasus software was downloaded into his phone.
Patrón is the director of the organization that represents the parents of the Ayotzinapa missing students and is arguably the most respected human rights advocacy expert in Mexico. He is involved in several of the most serious human rights abuses in the country and has been a major critic of the government.
Stephanie Brewer, an American lawyer who has worked with the group since 2007, was another target identified by The New York Times.
Without knowing, Brewer installed the spyware on her phone when she received a suspicious text message asking her why the Prodh Center did not defend members of the armed forces or police corporations who are victims of abuse. The lawyer opened the link and this led to a corrupt website, where the Pegasus software was downloaded into her mobile device, according to the NYT.
After The New York Times reported on this matter, those involved called for a press conference today at 13:00 hours where they all revealed these facts, and accused the Federal government of espionage.