Week in Review: June 30, 2017

by Jeanette Si

Mexican Attorney General Will Seek FBI Assistance in Investigating Spying Allegations

After many reports of prominent Mexican activists, journalists, and human rights lawyers being targeted by tracking software on their mobile phones, Mexico’s Attorney General is opening an investigation into accusations that the Mexican administration spied on private citizens.

The software reached its target via text message -- many of the alleged victims would have an innocuous-seeming link sent to them from an unknown number. Clicking on the link would enable the software to track the victims via their phones. Much of the victims’ personal information would then be leaked, and some of their close relations would also be targeted.

Since 2011, the Mexican government had spent $80 billion on spyware intended to be used for tracking criminals. However, a New York Times investigation reveals that this same software had been used on the phones of private citizens who are outspoken against the government.

Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto called these charges “false” and asked the attorney general for a thorough investigation. As a part of this investigation, the attorney general will ask the alleged victims for their mobile phones, and collaborate with the FBI on analyzing the information within. 

3G and 4G mobile connections have been on the rise in Mexico. Compare 3G and 4G connections across different countries here

Russian Communications Regulator Threatens to Ban Telegram 

The controller of Russian communications has made demands of the messaging app Telegram threatening to block the app from Russia unless the company hands over information about its app and how to decrypt its messages.

Russian officials claim that Telegram has been used as a communications channel for terrorists, citing a suicide bombing in April that had been planned over the messaging app. It has also been used to distribute a child-centric ISIS learning app. Even though Telegram has tried to censor terrorist channels in the past, “new ones are created frequently.”

U.S. agencies and the Iranian government have both tried to request information about Telegram, but the app’s management would not yield. Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, said that he questions the effectiveness of blocking certain sites.

“If you want to defeat terrorism by blocking stuff, you'll have to block the Internet,” said Durov. 

Social Media Giants Band Together to Fight Terrorism 

In the wake of a recent string of terrorist attacks, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft have come together to establish a global forum which aims to “remove extremist content from their respective services.”

This coalition, named the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, intends to “formalize and structure existing and future areas of collaboration between our companies and foster cooperation with smaller tech companies, civil society groups and academics, governments and supra-national bodies such as the EU and the UN.”

These companies hope that by pooling together resources and sharing advancements in filtering technology, they can stop the dissemination of extremist content across their respective platforms. One of the major projects that this coalition seeks to complete is “improving a joint database of images and videos that promote terrorism” to be used in detecting extremist content.