June 23, 2017 / 1:26 AM / 2 months ago

Mexico president calls for probe into alleged government spying

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto delivers a speech during an event in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, in this undated handout photo released to Reuters by the Mexican Presidency on June 22, 2017. Mexico Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto asked the attorney general's office on Thursday to investigate charges the government spied on private citizens, saying he wanted to get to the bottom of the accusations that he called "false."

Activists, human rights lawyers and journalists in Mexico filed a criminal complaint on Monday following a report that their smartphones had been infected with spying software sold to the government to fight criminals and terrorists. [nL1N1JH01Y]

"Here and now I want to categorically state this is a democratic government, this is a government that respects and tolerates critical voices," Pena Nieto said at a televised event.

The complaint presented to the attorney general's office by nine people followed a New York Times report that some of them had been spied on with software known as Pegasus, which Israeli company NSO Group sold to Mexico's government.

"All of the equipment and technology that the government ... has acquired is used to uphold the country's domestic security. It's used to fight against organized crime," said Pena Nieto.

He said there was no room for "illegal" spying on the private lives of citizens and that the investigation would focus on determining if the charges were backed by evidence and uncovering the source of the accusations.

During his speech, Pena Nieto appeared to suggest the probe would target both the allegations and the accusers, saying he would use the full force of the law "against those who have hurled these false accusations against the government."

A presidential aide told Reuters that Pena Nieto misspoke and meant to say the charges would be investigated and that anybody found to have engaged in "illegal" spying would be prosecuted.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney

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