Ejército Espía (The Spying Army), a new investigation by Mexican civil society organisations, reveals that Pegasus spyware was illegally used against journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
The investigation, by Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), ARTICLE 19 Mexico and Central America, and SocialTIC, with forensic analysis and support from Citizen Lab, found the new cases of surveillance occurred during the current government administration, despite repeated reassurances from the president that the government did not have current contracts with The NSO Group, which manufactures the spyware.
The report reveals that Raymundo Ramos, President of the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee, Ricardo Raphael, journalist and writer, and a journalist from Animal Político were all targeted.
The investigation exposes the existence of contracts between the Mexican Army and the company Anstua, which signs agreements on behalf of The NSO Group.
The journalists and a human rights defender were conducting investigations into serious human rights violations committed by the armed forces at the time they were targeted.
Commenting on the investigation, Quinn McKew, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, said:
“Since 2017, NGOs, journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico have been raising alarm about the use of Pegasus to spy on them. The Army Spies investigation provides us with clear evidence that this illegal activity has continued under the current administration.
“Since the international Pegasus Project in 2021 revealed the scale of surveillance perpetrated using Pegasus, The NSO Group deployed increasingly sophisticated tactics to cover their tracks and evade public scrutiny: from working with intermediary companies such as Anstua, to re-branding Pegasus and marketing it under different names. But this can’t hide the truth – the surveillance of journalists and human rights defenders continues.
“President Obrador had claimed there was ‘no longer any relation’ with Pegasus – the new report shows that this wasn’t true. The Mexican Army, without having the power to intercept private communications of civilians, has carried out and continues to carry out those acts illegally. We urgently need authorities to be held accountable – the illegal surveillance must not go unpunished – and for this to be properly investigated.
“It is also clear that reassurances from government officials are not enough. We need a global moratorium on the sale and use of spyware technologies, until a proper framework rooted in international human rights law is developed, to prevent the repeat of such abuses.”
ARTICLE 19 has filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office for the illegal interception of private communications. However, there is little confidence that the Attorney General’s Office will conduct the investigations with independence and professionalism.
ARTICLE 19, R3D, and SocialTIC, together with the affected journalists and human rights defenders, call on the federal government to guarantee the security and personal integrity of the people spied on with Pegasus, and that of their families; for the establishment of an international mechanism to investigate the illegal espionage committed by previous and current Mexico governments and to ensure impunity for those responsible does not continue.
We urge Congress to give guarantees that it will not continue illegal espionage through making legal and institutional reforms that prevent the abuse of the country’s intelligence systems, in consultation with civil society to ensure adherence to the highest human rights standards.
Finally, we call on the Senate to put an end to armed forces’ involvement in security tasks.
ARTICLE 19 invites journalists, human rights defenders and members of the Mexican civil society who suspect they may have been subject to surveillance measures and wish to be part of the ongoing investigation to write to: [email protected]