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Mexican President Says Government Acquired Spyware but He Denies Misuse

But shortly after Mr. Peña Nieto made the remarks, and following questions from The Times regarding the perceived threat, the president’s spokesman, Eduardo Sánchez, said in an interview: “In no way was the president attempting to threaten either The New York Times or any of these groups. The president misspoke.”

An article in The Times and an analysis by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs concluded that Pegasus had been deployed to infiltrate the phones of journalists and government critics and, in some cases, their relatives.

At a press conference in Guadalajara on Thursday night, Mr. Peña Nieto elaborated on his earlier comments. “What I said, the scope of the instruction I gave, was precisely to follow up on the criminal complaints that some activists have filed regarding this supposed spying,” he said.

Though there is no proof that the government was behind the hacking attacks, activists have pointed to several pieces of circumstantial evidence that point to state surveillance.

Pegasus, which was created by an Israeli manufacturer called the NSO Group, is only sold to governments, and only on the condition that it be used against terrorists and criminals. The company says that the software cannot be transferred or used by anyone other than the purchaser.

According to contracts obtained by The Times, the Mexican government purchased at least $ 80 million worth of the software across various security agencies.

And yet between 2015 and 2016, some of the most outspoken critics of Mr. Peña Nieto’s administration were targeted by the spyware. The victims include lawyers who represent the parents of 43 students who vanished in 2014 and the journalist who reported that the president’s wife received a special deal on the purchase of a mansion from a government contractor close to the president.

Though the government responded to questions presented three weeks before publication of The Times’s article, Thursday marked the first time that it acknowledged having purchased the spyware. But the president vehemently denied that the software had been misused by anyone in his administration.

“This government categorically rejects any sort of intervention in the private lives of any citizen,” he said. “All the equipment, technology that this government effectively has and has purchased, is to maintain the internal security of the nation, to fight organized crime, to generate security for all Mexicans.”

Source: NYT > World

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