We really need to talk about government spying, because it’s deeply worrying

We really need to talk about government spying. And not just because Theresa May has helped to make Britain one of Earth’s most advanced surveillance states; but because recent scandals elsewhere in the world demonstrate just why such spying can be so dangerous to the well-being and freedom of ordinary citizens.

Spying on journalists, activists and anti-corruption groups

According to a recent investigation by press freedom organisation Article 19 and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the current Mexican government has apparently been spying not on criminals, but on the people responsible for uncovering the country’s biggest scandals related to crime, corruption and abuse of authority.

The creators of the spyware in question are Israel’s NSO Group. This organisation only sells the technology to governments. And according to The New York Times, it only does so in Mexico “with an explicit agreement that it be used only to battle terrorists or the drug cartels and criminal groups”. But given that the technology is reportedly only in government hands, the researchers who uncovered the spying on journalists, activists and anti-corruption groups believe the PRI government of President Enrique Peña Nieto sponsored this espionage.

The researchers say that, whenever unflattering news for the government came out, victims would receive SMS messages. After opening the links in these messages, malware would record keystrokes and compromise contact lists.

A statement from some of the alleged victims insisted that:

Espionage in Mexico has become an effective mechanism for intimidating human rights defenders, activists and journalists.

The government denied wrongdoing, however. A spokesperson for Peña Nieto, for example, said:

Read on...

The government categorically denies that any of its members carries out surveillance or interference in communications of defenders of human rights, journalists, anti-corruption activists or any other person without prior judicial authorization

The misappropriation of state resources

Prominent independent journalist Carmen Aristegui, meanwhile, argued that:

The agents of the Mexican state, far from doing what they should be doing legally, have used our resources, our taxes, our money to commit serious crimes

She also slammed the fact that her 16-year-old son was a target of the spyware. She asked:

What was the Peña Nieto government going to do with information on a young student?

In 2014, Aristegui helped to break the ‘White House‘ scandal – a story about Peña Nieto’s wife buying a $7m mansion in Mexico City from a government contractor. The journalist was subsequently fired from her popular radio show. And she has been sued in an attempt to keep her damning exposé off the nation’s shelves.

As The Canary has previously reported, Mexico is currently the least equal and most corrupt member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); one of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to be a journalist; and is plagued by human rights violations (including the notorious Ayotzinapa case) and unpopular neoliberal policies.

Peña Nieto’s PRI, meanwhile, is at the centre of many of Mexico’s corruption scandals. In fact, it would almost be easier to count the number of PRI governors who aren’t involved in corruption investigations than the ones who are [Spanish]. The former PRI governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, is just one case. There are currently allegations [Spanish], for example, that Duarte – arrested on corruption and criminal charges in April after evading authorities for months – diverted hundreds of millions of pesos (around £56m) from the state to the PRI’s next candidate for governor. (The candidate in question has denied [Spanish] receiving these resources.)

Back in the UK

Over in Britain, the scandal may not be so obvious. But the Investigatory Powers Act, which received Royal Assent in November 2016, reportedly made Britain the most advanced surveillance state in the democratic world. It gave the government unrestricted access to everyone’s personal information and internet browsing history. And as one Amnesty International report [pdf p35] pointed out, the government had ignored most criticisms and recommendations made about the bill:

Despite the sweeping powers in the Investigatory Powers Act that threaten to violate the human rights of people inside and outside the UK, the bill was pushed through parliament by the government, which ignored criticism from parliamentary committees, the telecommunications industry and civil society…

The government and its agencies can now surveil almost everything citizens do online. And all without the need for a warrant or cause for suspicion.

As NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden put it:

Deeply worrying

Although the recent arrest of a former Panamanian president on spying charges suggests that abuse and misuse of political power doesn’t always have to go unpunished, the fact is that governments around the world are seeking ever greater powers to monitor their citizens. And when that includes the potential for spying on political opponents, activists, and even journalists, we should all be deeply worried.

Get Involved!

– See more from The Canary on surveillance.

– Support the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance.

– Support the Network for Police Monitoring.

– Read more of The Canary‘s reporting on Mexico. And see more Global articles on Facebook and Twitter.

– Read about the Ayotzinapa case (the forced disappearance of 43 student teachers); which the current Mexican government has tried to sweep under the carpet. See more on human rights in Mexico from Amnesty International.

Featured image via greyweed/Flickr

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed