Mexico City, June 22 2017. Today for the first time, President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke publicly about the reports on the illegal use of technology to spy on the communications of journalists, anticorruption activists, and human rights defenders. The leader’s comments occurred in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, during the inauguration of an industrial park.
In his speech, President Peña Nieto condemned violations of privacy and ordered an investigation. In addition, he affirmed that Mexico does in fact use the espionage technology in question. At the same time, however, the President made various inappropriate and concerning comments.
First, before waiting until the investigation had even begun, the President condemned it to failure, asserting that, “[…] It is very easy to point fingers and blame; it is very easy to point to the government as someone who spies, as an entity that spies. Nothing could be further from the truth,” insisting that the reports are “false accusations.” In other words, the Chief Executive declared the accusations false, without any investigative measures, and preemptively exonerated the government of all responsibility. Given that the investigation still has not started, the leader lacks the technical and legal facts to assert that the reports are untrue and, on the contrary, the scientific reports conducted until now indicate the opposite. For the President of the country to so casually rule out such serious information makes one question the possibility that a serious, objective, and transparent investigation will even occur.
Second, the President normalized the seriousness of the crimes denounced and minimized the consequences in the lives of the people who reported the spying, saying, “None of the people that feel wronged can affirm or show or prove that their lives have been affected by this supposed hacking and by this alleged espionage.” Again, these remarks are irresponsible and lack support. As has been documented and demonstrated, the registered espionage attempts affect the personal and intimate lives of the victims, generating uncertainty and anxiety. The surveillance impacts the exercise of liberties and is a mechanism of information control.
Third, the President made a serious assertion, by accepting that he himself could be the object of espionage, commenting, “I myself, as President of the country, sometimes receive messages whose source or origin I don’t know. But I always make sure to be careful with what I say on the phone. Who knows if someone, at some point, will exhibit one of my conversations.” Coming from the Head of State, this type of passive acceptance of illegal spying is alarming. The security of the President’s communications affects the stability of the country, so the lightness with which the Chief Executive accepted his vulnerability confirmed that surveillance in Mexico is outside of control, and should trigger a serious investigation.
Fourth, the President made a very concerning threat to the complainants, by saying at the end of his speech: “I hope that the PGR can swiftly clarify responsibility, and I hope that the law is applied against those that have raised these false accusations.” With these comments, Enrique Peña Nieto failed to promise to use the weight of the law against those responsible for the illegal hacking, and rather sent a threatening message to those documenting the existence of illegal surveillance, those reporting on the surveillance through their communication channels, and those of us who as victims raised our voices and spoke out. This remark, coming from the President, denotes an authoritarian drift that should alarm us all. When the President of a country requests that the law be enforced to its fullest extent against those who use legal institutions to denounce the crimes against them, the very essence of democracy – balance and accountability – becomes vulnerable.
In sum, by condemning the investigation to failure, normalizing the impact of the espionage attempts on the lives of victims, minimizing the importance of the crimes, and, above all, issuing a concerning threat to the complainants, President Peña Nieto has demonstrated that his government will not be capable of investigating itself.
On the path to accountability, we reiterate that the only way to guarantee a real and thorough investigation is through an independent panel of experts that scrutinizes, at every step of the way, the actions or inactions of the PGR in the investigation of espionage. We similarly demand – given that the President affirmed that the government uses the espionage technology – that the government publicize and give transparency to the contracts it has with espionage companies.
The existence of these two features will indicate whether there exists even the smallest possibility of a democratic investigation.