Mexico opens probe into spying on activists, reporters


Mexico City (AFP)

Mexican prosecutors said Wednesday they have opened an investigation into allegations the government spied on leading journalists, human rights activists and anti-corruption campaigners.

The probe comes after charges were filed by a group of journalists and activists who said high-tech Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies had been installed on their cell phones.

Prosecutors will investigate the origin of the phony messages that targets say duped them into installing the program, as well as the supplier of the spyware, the attorney general's office said in a statement.

According to victims, the spyware is the highly invasive program Pegasus, made by the ultra-secretive Israeli firm NSO Group.

It effectively turns a target's cell phone into a pocket spy, accessing the user's communications, camera and microphone.

According to The New York Times, which broke the story Monday, at least three Mexican federal agencies have purchased some $80 million of spyware from NSO Group since 2011.

The company, which claims it only sells Pegasus to governments, says it has an agreement with clients that the software be used exclusively to target terrorists and criminals.

Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong denied Tuesday that the government spied on journalists and activists.

But plaintiffs say they have evidence of at least 76 cases of spyware being installed on their phones and those of their families and associates.

The list includes noted journalist Carmen Aristegui, who has embarrassed President Enrique Pena Nieto with reports linking him to corruption, and human rights activist Mario Patron, who investigated the abduction and suspected massacre of 43 students in the southern state of Guerrero in 2014.

Victims said they received text messages with eye-catching news headlines, social media posts or even allegations their spouses were having affairs -- all of which were fake.

The messages would prompt users to click on a link that would secretly install the spyware.

Targets allegedly included Aristegui's 16-year-old son -- drawing condemnation from children's rights activists.