Detection of the use of the surveillance system Pegasus of the Israeli company NSO by governments and other clients for espionage purposes is causing reactions at the political and economic level.
Of particular concern is in Mexico. Marcela Turati had feared for a long time that the Mexican authorities were eavesdropping on her. Today, the freelance journalist is almost certain to be among the targets of Pegasus software.
Turati, 47, was informed on Saturday that her name, as well as that of 24 other journalists working in Mexico, was on a list of 15,000 phone numbers tracked by software created by Israeli company NSO and bought by the government. President Enrique Pena Neto (2012-2018).
Once installed without the owner’s knowledge on the smartphone, this program allows eavesdropping on messages, photos, contacts, calls, but also activating the microphone remotely.
A large-scale investigation that strengthens the long-standing suspicions of this company was published on Sunday by 180 journalists working for 17 international media, abcnews.al reports.
The investigation was based on a list compiled by the Forbidden Stories collective and the non-governmental organization Amnesty International, which includes, according to them, 50,000 telephone numbers that had been targeted by NGO clients since 2016 in order to monitored.
Edward Snowden, an espionage expert, called for a global ban on the Pegasus system, saying “if they have found a way to get into an iPhone, they have a way to get everything.”
He stressed that espionage software should be treated in the same way as nuclear weapons, where there are significant restrictions worldwide. In addition, Amazon announced that it is suspending the provision of network services to NSO, in an attempt to get away from the Israeli company.
Like Marcella Turati, relatives and associates of current Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador were among the targets.
Although Pegasus license in Mexico expired in 2017, Marcela is convinced that monitoring continued by other means. “I think almost all journalists in Mexico know and think that they are being subjected to some kind of surveillance, as Mexico is one of the most dangerous places to practice our profession,” she told AFP.
At the time she believed she was being spied on, she and two other colleagues were investigating the case of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has admitted to bribing politicians across Latin America to secure state contracts.
Lopez Obrador, in power since 2018, said Monday that his government was not spying on journalists. “No one is being spied on, freedoms are guaranteed,” said the center-left president.
At the same time, he vowed to investigate the case of journalist Olegario Aguilera, who disappeared 17 years ago in the state of Guerrero.
Along with a group of journalists, Marcela Turati has become famous for creating a map of the locations of secret mass graves and investigating the immigrant massacre and disappearance of 43 students in Ayotsinapa in 2014, a case that sparked a worldwide protest .
More than 100 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, including Cecilio Pineda in March 2017 in Guerrero. Unbeknownst to him, Pegasus was also installed on his phone.
Following the publication of the investigation, the NSO claimed that its software was designed to combat terrorism, pedophilia and organized crime and that it did not control how its client governments used it.
The Hungarian government of Viktor Orban has also denied having used the Israeli program to eavesdrop. “The director general (of the secret services) informed me that there was no co-operation with the Israeli intelligence services,” Foreign Minister Peter Siarto told a news conference.