The Mexican government denied on Monday afternoon any involvement in the reported illegal surveillance of high-profile activists and journalists in the country.
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s office said in a statement that none of his administration’s agencies would monitor a citizen without a court order. The statement acknowledged officials conduct intelligence operations to combat organized crime and defend national security.
“The Government of the Republic categorically rejects that any of its agencies monitors or intercepts communications among human rights activists, journalist, anti-corruption activists or any other person without judicial clearance,” the statement said.
The government was responding to a report issued Monday by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and three Mexican watchdog groups saying journalists, lawyers and activists were targeted by spyware produced by the Israel-based NSO Group and sold exclusively to governments.
The targets included two of the country’s most famous journalists -- radio host Carmen Aristegui and television anchor Carlos Loret de Mola -- and activists that have spoken out against government corruption and the unsolved disapperance of 43 university students in 2014.
The Spyware, named Pegasus, gained access to its targets by tricking them into clicking on a link on their phone, according to the report, titled “Reckless Exploit.” Alexandra Zapata, a public policy analyst with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think-tank that has pushed for anti-corruption legislation, received messages claiming to have details about her whereabouts, she said.
"When I got a message saying we have compromising images of you having dinner last night, I had been having with someone the night before,” Zapata said. “You start feeling like they're not only sending you these messages, but you're being monitored in different ways."
In the report, Citizen Lab said it had no definitive evidence that government employees were deploying the Spyware. “However, circumstantial evidence suggests that one or more governmental of NSO’s government customers in Mexico are the likely operators,” the report said.
The victims filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office, they said at a press conference on Monday. The Attorney General’s Office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.