MEXICO CITY, July 19 (Reuters) – The entourage of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, politicians from all parties, dissidents and journalists were potential targets for the surveillance of a government client of the Israeli software company NSO Group spies, The Guardian reported on Monday.
At least 50 people close to Lopez Obrador were potentially targeted between 2016 and 2017 before his election in 2018, including his wife, children and siblings, The Guardian said.
The Guardian report is based on what the newspaper and others have said to be a leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers that it says have been screened for possible surveillance by government customers of the NSO Group around the world.
The list, first viewed by the French non-profit newspaper Histoires interdite and the rights group Amnesty International, was shared with The Guardian and more than a dozen other news outlets.
Reuters could not independently confirm the existence of the data leak or its contents.
NSO Group has rejected reports of a data breach.
“This is not a list related to NSO Group, and NSO has no target list. The ‘list’ is derived from services such as HLR Lookup, which is open and free to anyone online,” said NSO Group in a press release.
“NSO Group will continue to investigate all credible allegations of abuse and take appropriate action based on the results of those investigations.”
Mexico’s defense ministry and attorney general’s office were clients of the NSO group under President Enrique Peña Nieto’s previous administration, according to The Guardian.
These entities did not immediately return Reuters’ requests for comment. The former spokesperson for Peña Nieto could not be reached immediately for comment.
A spokesperson for Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
In 2017, Citizen Lab, a group of researchers based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, revealed that Mexican civilians had been targeted by software known as Pegasus, which NSO Group only sells. ‘to governments.
Targets included the phones of journalists, human rights activists and experts backed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which investigated the 2014 disappearance of 43 Mexican students, one of the worst atrocities from Mexico.
“The systematic and widespread use of Enrique Peña Nieto’s government to spy on journalists, activists, victims of violence and political opponents is very serious,” said Leopoldo Maldonado, director of the press freedom group Article 19 for Mexico and Central America.
“Spying on the entourage close to President AMLO shows this systematic abuse,” he said.
Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey; Written by Laura Gottesdiener; edited by Daina Beth Solomon and Grant McCool
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