A new report from the The Citizen Lab shows that the Mexican government used spyware to surveil a group of international investigators who were looking into the disappearance of 43 Mexican students in what has become known as the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping.
The government utilized a spyware called Pegasus from the NSO Group, an Israeli company that is supported by a private equity firm in the United States.
The surveillance on researchers tied to the kidnapping case occurred in March 2016, just as the lawyers and journalists were preparing a final report of their findings, which included a condemnation of the Mexican government for interfering in their investigation.
The Citizen Lab, the outlet that first uncovered the attacks is based out of the University of Toronto and use a variety of cyber espionage techniques to identify when governments are utilizing spyware systems from private companies. Before The Citizen Lab connected Pegasus to 2014’s kidnapping, they identified a case in which health experts who advocated for new food tax policies in Mexico had been infected with a similar bug.
The disappearance in Iguala is still largely unsolved. The Mexican government has made false reports in an effort to absolve itself from any wrongdoing. They say that the 43 students were likely taken by corrupt police officers who were working with a local cartel and later incinerated in a trash dump. But experts working on the case say there’s evidence that federal agents were also aware of the kidnapping yet did nothing to prevent it.
In an interview with Democracy Now!, Stephanie Erin Brewer, who helped with the investigation into the disappearance, identified how the Mexican government put its resources in all the wrong places.
She explained, “What we have now is proof that the Mexican government, instead of investing its time and resources in clearing up this case, in finding the students and explaining what happened and punishing those responsible, has instead invested its resources...in spying on the lawyers, who represent these family members, and on the international experts, who came here with diplomatic immunity to aid the Mexican government in clearing up this horrendous crime.”
This isn’t the first time Pegasus has been used for nefarious purposes. Last year, the United Arab Emirates was accused of using the spyware to illegally track the human rights activist Ahmed Mansour.
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