Freedom of Expression

Press release R205/21

The IACHR, SRFOE and OHCHR Mexico express their concern
about the new findings on the use of Pegasus software.

Mexico City, Washington, DC, August 06, 2021 - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) and the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) express their concern about the new findings on the use of Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders and public leaders in opposition to the government.

The information recently made public adds to the complaints that at least since 2017 have been made by organizations, defenders, and journalists regarding the use of this and other espionage tools in Mexico and other countries in the region.

In this regard, the IACHR, its SRFOE and the OHCHR recall that it is imperative that States limit the use of any type of technology that may interfere with private communications in accordance with international human rights standards. Furthermore, this use must be clearly and precisely delimited in the law, be exceptional and operate on a strictly necessary basis; in addition, it must have prior judicial authorization and constant supervision by the relevant state agencies. 

On the other hand, the IACHR, its SRFOE and OHCHR call on the Government of Mexico to ensure that the investigation underway is complete, effective and impartial and results in the effective punishment of those responsible; and to guarantee the adoption of the necessary measures to respect, protect and guarantee the right to privacy and freedom of expression of citizens, the exercise of journalism, the defense of human rights, public participation and guarantees to the political opposition. This investigation should include the full identification of the victims of espionage or attempted espionage, as well as the possibility of informing them. The Mexican State reported that it is facilitating the respective investigation.

As noted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the use of surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even murder of journalists and human rights defenders, which is extremely worrying.

In this regard, the IACHR, its SRFOE and OHCHR underscore the importance of the work of those who practice journalism and defend human rights and extend their recognition and support to those who have courageously documented and disseminated information about this case, as well as to those who were victims of espionage. They also emphasize that this type of practice not only violates the right to privacy, but also has the potential to affect the integrity of their sources and other people around them.

In addition, they point out that this type of facts involves the responsibility of both States and companies. It is important to reiterate the duty of private companies to comply with human rights, and the obligations of States in terms of due diligence, transparency, and accountability, especially with regard to contracting and supervision of services provided by private actors.

Finally, it is essential to reiterate the call for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until regulatory frameworks in line with human rights are established.




For press inquiries, please contact:


IACHR: Corina Leguizamon. [email protected]

OHCHR Mexico: Gabriela Gorjón. [email protected]


Additional information


In 2017, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR became aware of a series of complaints from a group of civil society organizations about the acquisition and use by the Mexican government of malicious software (malware) for surveillance to spy on journalists, human rights defenders and other public actors such as lawyers, public health and anti-corruption experts. According to the information received at the time, between January 2015 and August 2016, there were at least 97 attempts to infect cell phones through the "Pegasus" software, which once surreptitiously installed on the phone, would allow access to files, contacts, messages and emails, as well as gain access -without the knowledge of the user of the device- to the microphone, camera and gps location.


In its July 2017 press release, the Rapporteur’s Office identified journalists Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola, human rights defenders Mario Patrón, Santiago Aguirre and Stephanie Brewer of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Centro PRODH) and at least one member of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), established to investigate the mass disappearance of students in Iguala in 2014, among the 19 people who were allegedly targeted by "Pegasus" in Mexico. At the time of the reported attacks, these individuals were investigating and reporting on events of marked public interest and/or carrying out actions to defend serious human rights violations.


On July 18, "Project Pegasus," an investigation by a global consortium of news organizations, revealed that the software has been used continuously and extensively in recent years to target activists, journalists and political figures globally. The investigation was prompted by a massive leak of more than 50,000 phone number records of customers of NSO Group, the developer of the software. According to publicly available information, the phones of at least 180 journalists were allegedly selected in 20 countries by at least 10 of the company's clients, including journalists from Mexico.


According to Forbidden Stories, the journalistic entity in charge of the investigation, some of the first journalists affected by Pegasus were identified in Mexico in 2015 and 2016, including Carmen Aristegui, investigative journalist and founder of Aristegui Noticias, who began receiving messages with suspicious links after she published an investigation on former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The recent findings would have identified three other people close to the journalist allegedly selected as surveillance targets since then: her sister Teresa Aristegui, her CNN producer, Karina Maciel, and her former personal assistant, Sandra Nogales.


The list of journalists allegedly under surveillance by the Mexican government includes Azam Ahmed, the current Mexico bureau chief for The New York Times, who in 2017 served as the paper's correspondent and had reported on the activists and journalists spied on with Pegasus. Likewise, journalist Cecilio Pineda, murdered in the state of Guerrero in March 2017 after exposing a public denunciation of cases of corruption and organized crime in Mexico, was also allegedly targeted for spying. According to information received by the Rapporteur’s Office, among others, the records include journalists from Proceso and La Jornada, as well as the judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor.


In the framework of the Special Report on Freedom of Expression in Mexico, the Office of the Special Rapporteur reported that then President Peña Nieto acknowledged that the government had purchased software that gave it the ability to carry out digital surveillance. Although the government denied the allegations of the purchase and use of Pegasus, the Rapporteur’s office was able to learn that an internal investigation into the matter, led by FEADLE, had been launched. According to information provided by FEADLE, the objective of the investigation was to identify government purchasers and review individual surveillance targets. This information was also made available to the IACHR and its Rapporteur’s office during the hearing on Justice and Impunity in Mexico, held on Thursday, July 6, 2017, during the 163rd session, where the petitioning organizations expressed their alarm at the allegations of spying on persons critical of the Mexican government.