Mexico President denies government spying on journalists

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Mexico President denies government spying on journalists

MARCO UGARTE AP MEXICO CITY - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador denied on Tuesday that his administration spied on journalists or opponents after a report that the phones of three people investigating human rights abuses were infected with Pegasus spyware.

Digital watchdog Citizen Labs said on Sunday that phones belonging to two journalists and a human rights activist were infected with Pegasus between 2019 and 2021.

Lopez Obrador won the election in 2018 after an election campaign in which he pledged to put an end to government spying on its citizens and later said he would not use Pegasus.

READ MORE: Mobile phones of Spanish PM, Minister tapped by Pegasus system.

Pegasus belongs to Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, which typically sells the software to governments or law enforcement.

Lopez Obrador said when asked if he knew about the purchase of Pegasus, which can be used to remotely break into phones, it's not true that journalists or opponents are spied on. He said the military carried out intelligence work that was not snoopers, accusing adversaries of using Pegasus allegations to discredit his government.

My doctrine isn't hypocrisy, like the former administrations you applaud, he told reporters.

The use of Pegasus by Mexico was detected by Citizen Lab in 2017 under former president Enrique Pena Nieto, sparking alarm about the monitoring of politicians, journalists, activists and critics of the government.

Mexico's defense ministry said on Tuesday it had contracted Pegasus services from June 2011 to August 2013 and denied allegations of spying.

ALSO READ: EU watchdog calls for the ban on Pegasus surveillance tool.

The ministry said that Pegasus was only used to maintain the safety and operational capacity of the armed forces through intelligence work.

It said that the army's intelligence work is geared toward arresting criminal leaders, finding drug production facilities, confiscating guns and other matters of public safety.

The statement said that this ministry does not carry out intelligence activities, much less espionage of any kind, against sectors of the population, such as human rights defenders, social activists and journalists.

Three alleged victims of Pegasus filed a complaint with federal prosecutors on Monday calling for a criminal investigation. Lopez Obrador asked for evidence to be turned over to authorities.

The infections were verified by Citizen Lab, a leading cybersecurity research group at the University of Toronto, and published in a report by Mexican digital rights advocacy group R 3 D. Reuters could not independently confirm the findings.

ALSO READ: France's Macron will hold a cabinet meeting on Pegasus spyware case.

Israel's NSO Group said it could not validate Citizen Lab's analysis without seeing data that the research group does not share. It terminates contracts when it finds wrongdoing.

Mexico's Attorney General's Office said it did not have information about the case.