IACHR Expresses Concern Over the Increase in Cases Concerning the Use of Pegasus Spyware in Mexico

June 2, 2023

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RFOE) urged the State of Mexico to step up its efforts regarding the illegal use of Pegasus spyware to target journalists and defenders. In the lines of investigation that it pursues, the State must consider the kind of work that these people engage in and the impact that the illegal surveillance of them has on democratic rule.

On May 15, 2023, the Attorney General's Office (FGR) publicly announced that it would be opening of a new investigation file in relation to the acquisition of Pegasus spyware in 2014 by system in 2014 by the Ministry of Justice. This investigation concerns the alleged crimes of "embezzlement," "fraud," "misuse of power and authority," and "criminal association." The FGR noted that these investigations are independent of the prosecutions that are in progress regarding various illegal interventions committed during the previous administration's term in office.

In recent years, the IACHR and the RFOE have learned of multiple cases of surveillance in Mexico using Pegasus. An investigation published by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto in April 2023 revealed that authorities from the Mexican Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) had used Pegasus to spy illegally on two members of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh) between June and September 2022, which could be linked to their work in defense of serious human rights violations. Likewise, according to public information, the surveillance software was also used to target high-level authorities such as the Undersecretary of Human Rights at the Ministry of Goverment, a fact noted by the National Human Rights Commission. The list of people allegedly targeted using Pegasus in recent years includes journalists, human rights defenders, a judge at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and a member of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) in the Ayotzinapa case. At the same time, the Mexican State sent the IACHR statements made by the President of the Republic on May 30, 2023, in which he claimed that no espionage is taking place against individuals, citizens, journalists, or public servants.

Although in 2021 the RFOE acknowledged the actions that had been implemented in the question for justice in relation to the use of Pegasus in Mexico, generally speaking, no substantial progress has yet been made. This seems to contradict the increase in reports of individuals being targeted using the spyware and the uncertainty as to whether or not the use of Pegasus against those who perform work that is crucial to democratic rule has ceased. In view of the scale of the complaints received and the information that has come to light in recent years, the measures taken so far have fallen short.

In the IACHR's view, such practices not only violate the right to privacy enshrined in the American Convention but also have the potential to jeopardize the integrity of journalists and human rights defenders while increasing self-censorship in the press and discouraging their work defending human rights. The State has the obligation to guarantee the right to privacy through positive actions that seek to protect this right from the interference of public authorities, private individual, and private institutions.

The IACHR and the RFOE call on the Mexican State to conduct a full, exhaustive, impartial investigation into the acquisition and use of Pegasus and to punish those responsible; to ensure adequate compliance with guarantees of due process; and to guarantee effective cooperation to enable the authorities leading the investigation to access the information held by the State institutions in question and the private sector so that they can contribute to the clarification of the facts. According to inter-American standards, investigations into crimes committed against journalists and human rights defenders must take their lines of work into account their functions and work as their main hypothesis when formulating lines of investigation.

Likewise, the IACHR and RFOE urged the adoption of all necessary measures to respect, protect, and guarantee citizens' right to privacy and freedom of expression, the practice of journalism, the defense of human rights, and public participation. This includes the duty of the highest authorities to clearly, publicly, and forcefully reject any type of illegal interference with people's privacy through technology.

Finally, in accordance with previous statements, the IACHR and the RFOE urged the State to immediately cease any action resulting in the sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technology until human rights-oriented regulatory frameworks have been put in place and all agents have been instructed to refrain from using the Pegasus software illegally and to report any instructions to do that they may receive from their superiors.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 109/23

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