It’s not unusual to hear of countries using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to surveil the public, but there are now concerns one government is spying on itself. Sources for The New York Times and The Washington Post claim Pegasus has been found on the phone of Mexico undersecretary for human rights Alejandro Encinas, a longtime ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as well as at least two members of Encinas’ office. While there’s no firm evidence pointing to a culprit, this comes as Encinas has been investigating alleged military abuses of power since 2018, including the notorious disappearance of 43 students in Iguala in 2014.
The University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab research team detected Pegasus in a 2022 audit, according to a source speaking to The Post. Encinas’ phone has been compromised more than once, The Times says, including last year as he was heading the commission covering the Iguala disappearances. He blamed the tragedy on the police, military, certain officials and drug traffickers. Encinas apparently briefed Obrador about the spying this March, but has remained silent since.
Encinas, Citizen Lab and the Mexican Defense Ministry have already declined to comment. NSO Group tells The Times in a statement that it looks into “all credible allegations” of misuse, and ends contracts when it finds problems.
In a press conference, Obrador has minimized the alleged snooping and doesn’t believe the military is to blame. However, anti-corruption critics Ángela Buitrago and Eduardo Bohorquez are worried the Mexican army may be using Pegasus to retaliate against Encinas, revealing a lack of effective government oversight in the process.
NSO Group itself has faced widespread criticism. The US banned trade with the company in 2021 for allegedly selling spyware to authoritarian governments that used the tools to eliminate dissent by surveilling activists and journalists. NSO has denied enabling abuses and even hired a libel attorney who accused some journalists of misrepresenting its business.
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