Monday, July 24, 2017

Pegasus Spyware Use in Mexico : UN Human Rights Experts Demand Independent Investigation

Posted by Yaqui for Borderland Beat from NYTimes

Mexican Citizens Protesting Spyware Surveillance
Follow Up to BB's  NYT Post June 21, 2017
Extra Material from UN Press Release ohchr.org

By: Elisabeth Malkin July19, 2017

United Nations human rights experts called on Mexico's government on Wednesday to establish an independent investigation into smartphone surveillance of human rights lawyers, journalists and social activists.

The hacking effort, using advanced spyware whose sale is restricted to governments, has generated a furor in Mexico. The attorney general’s office, one of the agencies that acquired the spyware, known as  Pegasus, has opened an investigation.

But the Mexican government recently blocked a proposal for the country’s new anticorruption board to investigate the hacking — an inquiry that would have been more transparent than an ordinary criminal investigation.

By limiting the case to the attorney general’s office, the Mexican government is investigating itself with no outside oversight, the four United Nations experts said in a statement from Geneva.



“We are concerned about the alleged implication in the purchase and use of Pegasus by the same authorities that are now in charge of conducting the investigations,” the statement said. “In that sense, we call on the government to take all the necessary steps to ensure the impartiality of the investigating organ.”

The envoys — Michel Forst, David Kaye, Joseph A. Cannataci and Houria Es-Slami — are involved in issues that include the freedom of expression, privacy rights, involuntary disappearances and other human rights abuses.

Mobile Unit with Spyware Installed
There was no immediate response from the Mexican government to the statement but the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression, Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, said last month that the Mexican authorities would seek technical help from outside agencies, including the F.B.I.

An investigation by The New York Times and forensic cyberanalysts first reported the details of the hacking effort last month describing how Pegasus turned up on the cellphones of journalists and activists in 2015 and 2016.

Ricardo Sanchez Perez del Pozo
Pegasus sends text messages to targets, encouraging them to click on a link. Once the link is opened, the telephone becomes a surveillance device.

After the Times report was published, five outside experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the disappearance of 43 college students in the city of Iguala in 2014 found that they had received similar messages in March 2016.

Mexico City Protests After the Disappeared "Iguala 43"
The five investigators — human rights experts from Colombia, Chile, Spain and Guatemala — were granted diplomatic immunity.

The hacking efforts, confirmed by Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and the Mexican digital rights group R3D, also extended to Mexican opposition politicians and health activists who had been pushing to raise taxes on soft drinks.

The hacking allegations “are highly concerning and are evidence of the hostile and threatening environment that human rights defenders, social activists and journalists face in Mexico today,” the United Nations experts said.

In Memorium: The 43 Missing Students Teachers of Iguala
It is Now Thought that the Investigators Were also Victims of the Pegasus Spyware             
NSO, the Israeli company that makes Pegasus, says that it sells the spyware to governments on the condition that it be used only against terrorists and criminals.

The Mexican government has denied that it used the software to spy on activists and journalists and argued that there was no proof against it because the spyware does not leave behind the hacker’s digital fingerprints.

Mexico’s opposition National Action Party and the Inter-American Commission have called for an outside investigation into the espionage. The United Nations envoys said the hacking targets should be allowed to participate.

Geneva:

A group of United Nations experts today called on the Government of Mexico to carry out a transparent, independent and impartial investigation into allegations of monitoring and illegal surveillance against human rights defenders, social activists, and journalists.

The experts’ call comes a month after civil society organizations and the international media revealed allegations that the Mexican authorities deployed a spyware called ‘Pegasus’ to hack and monitor the mobile phones of people involved in the investigation and denunciation of cases of corruption and serious violations of human rights during 2015 and 2016.

Protesters Fill the Zocolo in Mexico City
“The allegations of surveillance, which represent a serious violation of the rights to privacy, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association, are highly concerning and are evidence of the hostile and threatening environment that human rights defenders, social activists and journalists face in Mexico today,” the experts said.

The surveillance has reportedly targeted human rights defenders from the NGO Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh), as well as members of other civil society organizations such as Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad and Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad.

Symbolic Protestor  of the " Iguala 43" 

The Executive Secretary and some members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, appointed to take part in the investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, are also said to have been affected.


Among the journalists who claim to have been monitored are Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola. In addition, evidence suggests that a child of one of the affected journalists was also monitored, as were certain members of political opposition parties.

A Protest After the Initial Revelation of the Spyware Used Against Journalists and Activists
“Given the seriousness of the allegations, the government must ensure the conditions necessary for the investigation to be carried out with independence and transparency,” said UN experts.

“We are concerned about the alleged implication in the purchase and use of Pegasus of the same authorities that are now in charge of conducting the investigations”, they noted. “In that sense, we call on the Government to take all the necessary steps to ensure the impartiality of the investigating organ”.   

The experts also called on the Government to ensure that victims are allowed to participate in the investigation and that the general public is informed in a timely manner of the results.

“We urge the Government to commit to cease the surveillance immediately,” they emphasized. “Such commitment must include effective controls over the security and intelligence services in order to prevent unlawful use of the State's monitoring tools.”

For the UN experts, “the resolution of this case through an independent and credible investigation is a key step in demonstrating the will of the Government in the fight against impunity in the administration of justice in Mexico”.