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Pegasus spyware attacks on journalists, activists in Mexico continued under Lopez: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the Oval Office of the White House on July 12, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

A Mexican digital rights organization has identified Pegasus spyware infections on the phones of at least two journalists and a human rights defender in Mexico between 2019 and 2021.

Their phones were infected with the infamous Israeli spyware during the term of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, according to a new report.

Obrador, who took office in late 2018, had vowed to halt the use of the spyware after a scandal erupted around its deployment during the presidency of his predecessor.

report by Mexican digital rights organization R3D (Red en los Defensa de los Derechos Digitales), published on Sunday, found that the spyware targeted two journalists who reported on issues related to institutional corruption and a prominent human rights defender.

The infections were reported years after the first revelations of Pegasus abuses in Mexico, which targeted investigative journalists, lawyers for cartel victims’ families, anti-corruption groups, prominent lawmakers, international investigators examining enforced disappearances, among others.

Pegasus spyware, created by Israeli firm NSO, is used to stealthily break into mobile phones and spy on personal information, including text messages, passwords, locations, and microphone and camera receivers.

The Israeli company has marketed it as a tool to target its adversaries around the world.

According to the report, Citizen Lab, a digital watchdog group at the University of Toronto, provided technical support for R3D’s analysis and validated the infections.

The targets included activist Raymundo Ramos, who helps victims of military abuse in the restive northern border state of Tamaulipas.

He was targeted by Pegasus at least three times in August and September 2020, according to the report.

Journalist Ricardo Raphael, a columnist for news outlets Proceso and Milenio and a host on channel ADN40, was also targeted.

He had his phone attacked in October and November 2019 and December 2020, the researchers found. He was previously targeted in 2016 and 2017.

An anonymous journalist from prominent online media outlet Animal Politico was also hacked in June 2021.

The spying activities happened while Obrador assured the public that his government would not use the spyware and that there would be no further abuses.

The continued use of Pegasus in the North American country has raised fresh questions about whether Obrador has lived up to his pledge to not spy on opponents.

Many governments around the world have used this Israeli software to suppress dissidents, journalists, and political opponents.

Last year, US-based Apple Inc. notified at least 11 American diplomats that their iPhones had been targeted by unidentified hackers that used Pegasus.

In Europe, some cyber detectives have found traces of the use of Pegasus or some other spyware in Poland, Hungary, Spain, and Greece.


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