Mexico Accused of Buying Cutting-Edge Spy Gadgetry

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Mexico is one of the biggest buyers of next-generation surveillance technology. And now data leaked to Forbes indicates it’s taken an unprecedented step in becoming the first-known buyer of surveillance technology that silently spies on calls, text messages phone-user locations via a long-vulnerable portion of global telecoms networks known as Signalling System No. 7 (SS7). The revelation was contained in what an anonymous source claimed was internal sales information from Israeli provider Ability Inc., which appeared to have sold its Unlimited Interception System (ULIN) to Mexico. With prices ranging between $5 and $20 million, ULIN enables silent snooping on cellphones.

The development comes as Mexico is wrapped up in a spyware scandal. Researchers this year found that activists, journalists, murder victims’ attorneys, and investigators into a mass student disappearance have been targeted by the Pegasus spyware, a creation of $1 billion-valued Israeli firm NSO Group. So far no Mexican agency has been accused of running the software. But news reports about the spying were swiftly followed by public protests in June. President Enrique Peña Nieto called for an inquiry–while at the same time denying his government was responsible. In August, an NSO Group spokesperson said the company was “deeply disturbed by any alleged misuse of our product,” but didn’t address any of the specific allegations.

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