Congressman Lowenthal Calls On Secretary Tillerson To Ensure Mexican Govt Moves Forward In Spyware Investigation

December 7, 2017
Press Release
In a letter sent today, Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to ensure that the Mexican government moves forward in an investigation regarding the use of spyware technology against human rights defenders, journalists, and anti-corruption activists in Mexico as well as urge the Department of State to open its own examination regarding the concerning and potential unlawful aspects of the case.

In the letter, the Congressman urges Secretary Tillerson, "…to make protecting the rights to privacy and the freedom of expression a top priority in our bilateral agenda with Mexico and to closely monitor the Government of Mexico's investigation into the public officials and government agencies that may have been involved in the spyware attacks."

In June, the New York Times broke a story about the use of sophisticated spyware technology targeting human rights defenders, journalists, and anti-corruption activists in Mexico. This spyware, known as Pegasus, was developed by the Israeli cyber warfare company NSO Group, who claim that it is sold exclusively to government entities under the explicit condition that it only be used against suspected terrorists and criminal organizations.

However, an investigative journalism report by digital media outlet The Citizen Lab found that this technology was used against, among others: human rights attorneys at Centro Prodh, who represent the families of the missing 43 students from Ayotzinapa, women of Atenco who were arrested and brutally sexually assaulted by police, as well as many other human rights cases; anti-corruption journalist Carmen Aristegui and her teenage son; and an independent panel of experts appointed by an international commission to investigate the Ayotzinapa missing student case.

The Mexican government has never denied purchasing and owning the spyware, and earlier this year committed to launching an investigation into the misuse of this spyware. However, in the five months since the investigation began, the Mexican government has yet to provide any additional information regarding progress or results of its inquiry.

There are several concerning and potential unlawful elements of the case, including: spying on a US citizen and human rights attorney in Mexico; spying on a foreign citizen while they were residing in the US; spying on foreign investigators granted diplomatic immunity; as well as the impersonation of a United States Embassy by a foreign entity.

The letter concludes by stating, "In light of these revelations of illegal activities by Mexican federal agencies, we strongly urge you to insist that with the Mexican government promptly and thoroughly investigate the matter, to ensure that the investigation is conducted with complete transparency and independence, and make certain that the victims of the spying are informed of the progress in the case. We also request that the State Department separately examine elements of the case that are concerning or potentially unlawful, including spying on a U.S. citizen, on a foreign citizen while they were residing in the U.S., and on foreign investigators granted diplomatic immunity, as well as the impersonation of the United States government by a foreign entity. Further, we request that the State Department inform us as to the safeguards on spyware technology, such as Pegasus, to strictly limit its purchase and use by government entities."

In addition to Rep. Alan Lowenthal the letter to Secretary Tillerson was signed by Reps. James P. McGovern (D-MA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Michael E. Capuano (D-MA), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), José E. Serrano (D-NY), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Albio Sires (D-NJ).  
To read the entire letter, click here.