The international public health community calls upon the President of Mexico to cease surveillance and intimidation against Mexican public health advocates and to open an investigation to bring the responsible parties to justice

Mexico City, March 22, 2017 – In an open letter addressed to the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, prominent academics and organizations specializing in public health from over twenty countries requested a cease of the intimidation and surveillance of public health advocates who promote evidence-based public policies to curb the country’s obesity and diabetes epidemic. (Read the complete letter here)

This letter cites a technical report developed by The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which reveals that the researcher from the National Institute of Public Health, Dr. Simón Barquera, the Director of the non-profit association El Poder del Consumidor, Alejandro Calvillo, and the Coordinator of a civil society network entitled ContraPESO, Luis Manuel Encarnación, were targets of extremely sophisticated spyware installed on their mobile phones. These events occurred between July and August 2016, at the same time that the researcher was speaking in favor of increasing the country’s soda tax, and the advocates were promoting this health policy publicly and with legislators (Find The Citizen Lab report here)

The Citizen Lab report, which was cited in an article on the front page of The New York Times (NYT) on February 11th of this year, indicated that this operation used Pegasus spyware made by the NSO Group, an Israeli company who ensures they only sell their surveillance tools to governments for the exclusive use on fighting crime and terrorism. The Citizen Lab, as well as the NYT journalist who researched this company, warned that the Mexican government is one of the NSO Group’s main clients.

“In a country with some of the world’s highest overweight, obesity and diabetes rates, these men should be lauded for their efforts in defense of public health, not surveilled or threatened”, indicates the letter to Peña Nieto.

The letter, signed by some of the world’s most prominent nutrition and public health academics and organizations, states: “Mr. President, the international public health community urges you to stand for the values of freedom of speech, human rights and public health by investigating this situation thoroughly and bringing the responsible parties to justice.”

Moreover, on February 14th of this year, Mexican and international human rights, digital rights and right to information advocate organizations published a letter denouncing the espionage of health advocates in Mexico with “the use of highly-intrusive government programs … against academics and civil society organizations”. The organizations who subscribed the letter demanded cessation of this “harassment and surveillance” and called for “a thorough, serious and impartial investigation to identify and punish those responsible for illegal surveillance in Mexico”. (Read the letter here)

The calls for opening an investigation into this case, including points of agreement raised by Mexican Congresspeople in both the federal Senate and Chamber of Deputies, have not been acted upon by the Mexican government to date.