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More than 15,000 Mexican cell phones targeted by the Pegasus spy program

2021-07-19T22:52:28.691Z

Judges, activists, journalists and even relatives and advisers of AMLO are on a list of possible victims, according to an investigation. It is the country with the most phones under suspicion out of a total of 50,000 worldwide.



Activists who defended victims of state aggression, journalists investigating corruption, judges, union organizers, teachers who advocated policies against obesity, politicians and even relatives of the current Mexican president: the telephone numbers of all appear in a list of 15,000 cell phones of a Spyware that was intended to monitor criminal groups and combat terrorism instead.

The possible surveillance targets (being included in that list does not mean having been spied on) would have been the target of agencies of the previous government, of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

Although the use of the Pegasus spyware had already become known in 2017, until now

the extent of its possible victims was not known

.

Mexico is the country with the longest list of those obtained in the world.

There are reports that the program was still used in 2019, when Peña Nieto had already left office, but the data obtained by Forbidden Stories covers only the second half of his presidency, when he and his political formation (the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI ) plunged in the polls before the elections.

His rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador won overwhelmingly.

Of the list of 15,000 people under possible espionage in 2016 and 2017, at least 50 belong to AMLO's circle (as his name is popularly abbreviated), among them his wife, his children, his top advisers and his doctor.

"Just the tip of the iceberg"

Pegasus is a program that secretly infiltrates a cell phone through a link in a message that seems legitimate, and gains access to the entire list of contacts, calls, messages, location, camera and microphone without the user knowing.

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In 2011,

Mexico was the first country in the world to buy Pegasus from the NSO Group.

The Israeli company alleges that it markets the product to official agencies around the world, but is not responsible for how it is handled.

And he told the consortium reporters that the correlation with cases such as Pineda's death does not mean that possible espionage was the cause of the homicide.

Security experts warn that cyber surveillance is unregulated and out of control in Mexico.

Historically in the country, federal and state authorities have long used informants, infiltrators and eavesdropping devices to monitor and suppress dissent.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, left, receives command from Enrique Peña Nieto.AP

"Mexico's ability to spy on its citizens is immense. It is extremely easy for technology and information obtained through

spyware

to fall into private hands, whether of organized or commercial crime," Jorge explained to the British newspaper The Guardian. Rebolledo, a security consultant from Mexico City.

"What we know is just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

In total, the data breach released by the consortium covers more than 50,000 phone numbers around the world believed to have been selected by NSO Group government clients since 2016 as belonging to persons of interest to them.

There are more than 50 countries that have bought Pegasus, such as Mexico, France and the United Arab Emirates.

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The current president, under surveillance

Almost six years before Mexico bought the

software

, the country had launched its so-called war on drug trafficking to fight the cartels.

Pegasus was supposed to be used to catch people involved in the violence of criminal groups, not activists or journalists.

But even then, several law enforcement bodies had been implicated in systematic human rights abuses, such as torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

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Three agencies of the Mexican government obtained access to Pegasus: the Secretary of Defense, the attorney general's office, and the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN).

While Peña Nieto ruled, the

software

that only those agencies officially had access to - which deny the misuse - was used to spy on activists, human rights defenders, at least a score of journalists who published topics on official corruption and even the parents of students who disappeared in September 2014 in the southeastern state of Guerrero.

And as the July 2018 elections approached, people very close to López Obrador were also designated as persons of interest to NSO Group's Mexican clients.

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In addition to AMLO's relatives, the list includes his now Chief of Staff, Alfonso Romo;

his legal advisor, Julio Scherer Ibarra;

and the presidential communications officer, Jesús Ramírez Cuevas.

Among the dozens of other politicians from the Morena party, founded by López Obrador, is Claudia Sheinbaum, head of government of Mexico City.

The leaked data suggests that at least 45 current and past governors of Mexico's 32 states from all parties were candidates for surveillance.

Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, and his wife, Margarita Zavala, were also targets of "interest" for the spy program.

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It is unknown how many phones were actually successfully infected.

"With Peña,

the use of Pegasus went wild

," Guillermo Valdés Castellanos, head of CISEN from 2006 to 2011, told The Guardian newspaper, which revealed details about the list with Mexican media Proceso and Aristegui Noticias.

"Technology like Pegasus is very useful to fight organized crime, but the

total lack of checks and balances

makes it easy for it to end up in private hands and be used for political and personal gain without accountability," he said.

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announces in Palenque, Chiapas, that he will present a migration plan to his American counterpart.

Government of Mexico

López Obrador declined to comment to reporters who worked on this investigation.

But he has previously assured that his government does not use the spy program, despite activists reporting that Pegasus uses had still been recorded in 2019, when López Obrador was already president.

As a candidate, when it was only known that the program had been used against journalists and activists, AMLO promised to thoroughly investigate the use of Pegasus in Mexico.

But his Government has not carried out such an investigation and this Monday, when it became known that his own family was a possible target of espionage, it was also not announced that the investigation will advance.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2021-07-19

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