Mexican journalists, activists accuse govt of spying on them

Mexican journalists, activists accuse govt of spying on them

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. Prominent journalists Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola were among those targeted.

"This is an operation by the Mexican state, in which state agents - far from doing what they should legally do - have used our resources, our taxes, our money to commit serious abuses", said journalist Carmen Aristegui. The malware's purchase "has been documented by at least three units in Mexico: the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA), the Attorney General's Office (PGR) and the National Security and Investigation Center (CISEN)", the report reads. 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.

They received messages with links that, if clicked on, opened up their devices to being spied upon. After repeated failed phishing attacks, the software was used to target her son - a minor who was attending school in the United States at the time.

Far from being random, the researchers say, the messages were highly targeted, sent as the recipients were nearing publication of news stories or releasing information in investigations that would be damaging to the government and particularly Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The software can infiltrate smartphones and monitor calls, texts and other communications, the New York Times said.

The latest batch of text messages shows the range of tactics-and their varying degrees of credibility- that the hackers employed to lure their targets into clicking a malicious link.

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But Citizen Lab has gathered several examples of questionable use, including another case in Mexico, which is reportedly an NSO client.

The invasive spyware was developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance technology firm that has contracts with multiple agencies within Mexico, The New York Times previously reported based on internal NSO Group emails.

"We condemn any attempt to violate the right to privacy of any person", spokesman Daniel Millan said.

Personal and sexual taunts, fake emergency alerts and bills, and threats to physical safety are also employed as ways to break into targets' phone, according to Citizen Lab. The group sued the government, claiming that the tracking is illegal.

Gerardo Priego, a former politician with the right-leaning National Action party, said spying is nothing new in Mexico.

"The surveillance of journalists threatens press freedom in Mexico, and potentially the safety of their sources for sensitive stories", Carlos Lauría, CPJ's program director and senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from NY.

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