A group of Mexican nutrition policy makers and public health workers have been the latest targets of government malware attacks. According to the New York Times, several public health advocates were targeted by spyware developed by NSO Group, a surveillance software company that sells its products exclusively to governments. The targets were all vocal proponents of Mexico’s 2014 soda tax—a regulation that the soda industry saw as a threat to its commercial interests in Mexico.
It's no secret that Mexico has a deeply-rooted culture of secrecy surrounding surveillance. Mexican digital rights NGO, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, has been raising awareness about the lack of control of communications surveillance in the country and advocating for surveillance law that complies with human rights standards. Today, EFF joins more than 40 organizations in expressing our concern about the use of highly intrusive software against these public health advocates and demand that the Mexican government identify and punish those responsible for conducting illegal surveillance in Mexico.
Here is the text of the letter:
On July 11, an investigation by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and the New York Times revealed evidence that Dr. Simon Barquera, researcher at Mexico’s Public Health National Institute, Alejandro Calvillo, Director at El Poder del Consumidor and Luis Manuel Encarnación, Coordinator of ContraPESO Coalition received targeted attacks with the objective of infecting their mobile devices with surveillance malware exclusively sold to governments by the company NSO Group.
According to the evidence, the attacks are related to the target’s activities in defense of public health, particularly advocating for a soda-tax and criticizing deficient food labeling regulation. In the light of these revelations, the signatory national and international civil society organizations:
1. Condemn the illegal surveillance revealed and show our solidarity and stand with the academic institutions and civil society organizations targeted with these attacks.
2. Express our concern about the Mexican government’s use of highly intrusive software such as the Pegasus malware commercialized by the NSO Group, particularly against researchers and civil society organizations. This type of surveillance malware that exploits unknown security vulnerabilities (zero-day) in commercial software and products to obtain an absolute control of a device, severely compromises the right to privacy, especially when there is no legal controls or democratic oversight of state surveillance.
3. Demand the government of Mexico to stop the threats and surveillance against researchers and civil society organizations and call for an immediate investigation to identify and punish the officials responsible for illegal surveillance in Mexico.
4. Call international organizations, governments around the world and the international community as a whole, to investigate the activities of the NSO Group and other companies that sell surveillance capabilities to Mexico, a country with a record of human rights abuses.
5. Express our special concern regarding this new instance of harassment against researchers and health activists that affect the interests of the food and beverage industries. We call the industry to clarify its involvement or knowledge of the revealed surveillance and to publicly reject any act of intimidation against human rights defenders.
Asociación Nacional de la Prensa de Bolivia (ANP)
Asociación para el Progreso de las Comunicaciones (APC)
Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Australian Privacy Foundation
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social AC (Cencos)
Centro de Estudios Constitucionales y en Derechos Humanos de Rosario
Centro de Reportes Informativos Sobre Guatemala (CERIGUA)
Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A.C.(CMPDH)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Espacio Público, Venezuela
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP)
Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación
Intercambio Internacional por la Libertad de Expresión (IFEX-ALC)
Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir (ILSB)
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión (IPLEX)
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS)
Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH)
Patient Privacy Rights
Public KnowledgeRed en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D)
Renata Aquino Ribeiro, Researcher E.I. Collective
Reporteros Sin Fronteras
SonTusDatos Artículo 12, A.C.
Sursiendo, Comunicación y Cultura Digital (Chiapas, MX)
Usuarios Digitales, Ecuador
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)