Activists, human rights lawyers and journalists targeted by cell phone spyware are demanding an independent investigation, charging that the federal government has failed to investigate the case.
The Prodh human rights center, advocacy group Article 19, Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, and digital rights group R3D charged yesterday that the federal government had failed to properly investigate cases of smartphones being infected with spying software.
The groups came forward the same day that The New York Times published a report saying that United States officials have rebuffed repeated requests from Mexico to help investigate the case.
The newspaper said senior U.S. officials are wary that Mexico wants to use the U.S. as cover in a sham inquiry.
After a report surfaced last June that nearly 100 attempts had been made by someone to install spyware on the smartphones of journalists and human rights workers, Mexican officials said they would ask the FBI for help.
But the U.S. decided not to get involved, being leery that the Mexican government had little interest in solving the case because some powerful figures might be implicated, U.S. officials said.
They were particularly worried that the Mexicans would try to trumpet the U.S. involvement to lend an appearance of credibility to a whitewash, the Times reported.
Those who had been targeted by spyware attempts filed a formal complaint before the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR), claiming the government had infected their phones to spy on them with software known as Pegasus, which Israeli company NSO Group allegedly sold to the Mexican government.
“Since filing the complaint we said we did not trust the Attorney General’s office would be able to investigate itself, since there is evidence it was that agency that purchased the malware,” the activist groups said in a joint statement.
When President Enrique Peña Nieto instructed the PGR to investigate the charges, he stressed he wanted to get to the bottom of the “false” accusations.
The president “condemned the investigation to failure, threatening the accusers and concluding prematurely the charges were false,” said the groups’ statement.
After eight months, they said, authorities have neglected to follow up on several leads, even failing to identify and question the government officials trained to use Pegasus.
The activists concluded by calling on the candidates for July’s presidential election to make a public announcement on the need to create a panel of independent experts to investigate the case.