Pegasus spyware attacks continue in Mexico under López Obrador report

A report on Sunday concluded that the phones of at least three human rights investigators in Mexico were infected by a Pegasus device during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s term despite his government’s assurances it would stop using the controversial spyware. .

Lopez Obrador, who took office in late 2018, has vowed to stop using the technology after a scandal erupted over its deployment during his predecessor’s presidency.

Spyware, which can be used to remotely break into phones, provide access to their memory or turn them into recording devices, is usually sold only to governments and law enforcement.

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Researchers at Citizen Lab, a digital monitoring group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, analyzed the phones of journalists and a rights activist, and discovered that between 2019 and 2021 the devices had been infected by a Pegasus device, which belongs to him. The Israeli spyware company NSO Group.

Their findings were published in a report by Mexican digital rights advocacy group R3D, which noted that the three victims documented alleged human rights abuses by the Mexican armed forces.

Representatives for Lopez Obrador and the Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lopez Obrador said in 2021 that there was “no longer any relationship” with Pegasus, and Mexico’s head of financial crimes said at the time that the administration had not signed contracts with the companies used to purchase the software.

The NSO Group said it cannot verify Citizen Lab’s results without seeing detailed data, and that it terminates contracts when it finds irregularities.

The use of Pegasus by the government of Mexico was previously discovered by Citizen Lab in 2017 under former President Enrique Pena Nieto, raising concern about the extent to which officials would go to monitor politicians, journalists and activists, including people critical of the administration.

The alleged continued use of Pegasus raises new questions about whether Lopez Obrador has kept his pledge not to spy on opponents. It also deepens concerns about the burden that journalists and human rights defenders must bear in a country where they have long been under attack.

According to Citizen Lab and R3D, activist Raymundo Ramos, who helps victims of alleged military abuses in the violent northern border state of Tamaulipas, was targeted by Pegasus in August and September 2020.

The researchers found that journalist Ricardo Rafael, a columnist for the media procéso and milino and host on channel ADN40, targeted his phone in October and November 2019 and December 2020.

They also discovered that the phone of a journalist for news outlet Animal Politico, who asked not to be named, had been infected in 2021.

Ramos told Reuters in an interview that he had long suspected that the government was spying on him. Since he learned of Pegasus’ attack, he began to take more measures to protect his privacy, choosing to have sensitive conversations in person, and even then, he left his cell phone elsewhere.

“I’m on high alert,” Ramos said. “This is not just a hacker… someone has their sights set on you.”

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(Reporting by Dina Beth Solomon and Julia Love; Additional reporting by Christopher Bing in Washington and Lisbeth Diaz in Mexico City. Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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