The Mexican government used spyware intended for terrorist and criminal investigations to spy on journalists, lawyers and activists.
The Mexican government used spyware intended for terrorist and criminal investigations to spy on journalists, lawyers and activists.

The Mexican government used spyware intended for surveillance of terrorists and criminals to spy to journalists, activists and human rights lawyers

Federal agencies in Mexico purchased around $80 million of Pegasus software from the Israeli firm NSO Group since 2011 and  used it, in part, to target those dedicated to protecting human rights, including an academic responsible for writing legislation to thwart corruption, according to a report by Citizen Lab.

The group said that in February, working in conjunction with Mexican non-governmental organizations R3D and SocialTic, it previously detailed how links were sent to government food scientists, consumer advocates and health advocates apparently in an attempt to get them to install Pegasus on their phones. In the expanded report released this week, the groups show “how 10 Mexican journalists and human rights defenders, one minor child and one United States citizen, were targeted with NSO's Exploit Framework,” according to a release. With the help of R3D and SocialTic as well as Article 19, Citizen's Lab said it has “confirmed over 76 additional messages containing NSO exploit links.”

The organization said that “some of the messages impersonated” the U.S. Embassy to Mexico while “others masqueraded as emergency AMBER Alerts about abducted children.”

The software, which the NSO Group says it sells exclusively to government groups after extracting a guarantee that it will only be used to investigate drug cartels, terrorists and other criminal elements, can be used to monitor smartphones and turn devices with microphones and cameras into surveillance tools.  

“The evidence…continues to mount that self-regulation, as well as international regulatory efforts, have failed to stop the continued proliferation and abuse of these technologies,” Citizen Lab contended. “As a result, we think there is evidence of an informal ‘principle of misuse' for government-exclusive spyware: when the technology is sold to a government without sufficient oversight, it will eventually be misused.”