Mexico Caught Spying on Journalists and Activists' Smartphones
The Mexican government has been accused of abusing telecommunications software by spying on human rights and anti-corruption activists within its borders.
According to the New York Times, numerous federal agencies in Mexico have purchased Israeli-made phone spying technology on the condition that it be used to track violent non-state actors like terrorists or drug cartels. Instead, the Mexican government used the software to spy on its critics and journalists attempting to uncover corruption plaguing every level of their society.
The Israeli software, known as Pegasus, breaks into smartphones to monitor every detail of a person’s digital happenings: calls, texts, photos, emails, contacts and calendars. It can even use the microphone and camera on the phones for surveillance, turning anyone's smartphone into a personal GPS-mounted listening device.
Investigations by private forensic specialists and the Times concurred that these individuals had their devices hacked by outside influences. There is no definitive proof connecting the Mexican government to the Pegasus program, and it is to be expected that they will categorically deny these allegations, but Pegasus is only sold to govermental intelligence agencies around the world by Israel cyberarms firm NSO Group.
Messages sent to journalists and human rights lawyers meant to gain access to phones were misleading and personal. One targeted Carmen Aristegui, one of Mexico's most notable journalists, and her teenage son posing as a member of the United States Embassy in Mexico. Another victim was the wife of anti-corruption activist who was lead to believe her husband was unfaithful and the hidden Pegasus link contained the proof.
Journalists and other agents working for accountability in the extremely complicated nest of interests in the Mexican Drug War are frequent targets for extortion, kidnapping, and murder. More journalists were killed in Mexico last year than any other year this century and the intimidation does not appear to be slowing down at all.
This is an unprecedented governmental breach of civil rights in Mexico. Normally, as in most functioning democracies, a sitting judge must approve the warrant for any kind of wire-tapping or surveillance on someone suspected of aiding or committing a crime. It appears those constraints are being bypassed. What happens when those attempting to unveil the crimes and corruption are targeted?