Mexican army bought Pegasus in 2019 to spy on activists and journalists

An investigation reveals that the ‘malware’ continues to be used by the Armed Forces in the six-year term of Lopez Obrador.

The Mexican Army bought the Pegasus software in 2019 to spy on activists and journalists during the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. So far, at least one activist and two journalists have found evidence on their phones of the Armed Forces’ tracking of their personal information, an investigation by the Network in Defense of Digital Rights (Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, R3D) with Animal Político, Aristegui Noticias and Proceso magazine has revealed this Sunday.

The discoveries show that the Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, Sedena) recruited in June 2019, more than six months after the start of López Obrador’s administration, the company Comercializadora Antsua, representative in Mexico of NSO Group, the Israeli company that owns the Pegasus malware. NSO Group, which has been commercializing the software to tap phones in dozens of countries, has explained on several occasions that its only clients are governments. In addition, confirmation of the contract has been found in Army emails leaked last week by a group called Guacamaya.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab has verified that the phones of activist Raymundo Ramos, columnist Ricardo Raphael, and that of a journalist from Animal Político – who asked to remain unidentified – were infected with the malware in 2019. They all three had in common that they were investigating issues related to human rights violations carried out by the Armed Forces. The tracking to the victims’ cell phones is total, as the software allows access to all the information on the device, even encrypted information.

The Pegasus use in Mexico dates back to 2017, during the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), when some activist groups and journalists revealed the use that some government institutions were making of the malware for spying. Since then, it is known that the Government used more than 6 billion Mexican pesos from public money to hire the service; that among those under surveillance is journalist Carmen Aristegui and some members of López Obrador’s inner circle; and that its use was linked to the Federal Police and the Army. Between 2017 and 2019, Citizen Lab documented 25 cases of infection in cell phones, but activists estimate that the number could be even higher.

In 2019, López Obrador guaranteed that the government had stopped using systems such as Pegasus since the beginning of his administration. “We have given instructions that there will be no espionage,” he said in November of that year. The new findings point in a different direction. “This shows that the federal government has failed to fulfill its commitment to end illegal espionage in Mexico,” R3D points out. This Monday, victims and civil organizations will file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office(Fiscalía).

References:

Corona, S. (2022, octubre 3). El Ejército mexicano compró en 2019 Pegasus para espiar a activistas y periodistas. Ediciones EL PAÍS S.L. https://elpais.com/mexico/2022-10-03/el-ejercito-mexicano-compro-en-2019-pegasus-para-espiar-a-activistas-y-periodistas.html

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