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Mexican leak of journalists’ personal data raises security worries

REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL/FILE PHOTO

MEXICO CITY — The theft of the personal data of hundreds of journalists in Mexico, including addresses and copies of voter ID cards and passports, has raised fresh safety concerns in one of the most dangerous countries in the world for media professionals.

After media reports, Mexican authorities on Monday said government computers were hacked on Jan. 22 and promised an investigation. Officials said the personal data of at least 263 journalists, whom they did not publicly identify, was illegally accessed and released.

The officials said an individual, whom they did not name, used a former government employee’s account to take the data. The individual had a Spanish IP address, they said.

The leak exposes the journalists to potential identity theft and could compromise their physical security because the data includes home addresses. Among the victims are reporters at leading media such as La Jornada, El Universal, and Expansion, as well as Reuters. La Jornada and Expansion did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The safety of our journalists is paramount, and we are deeply troubled by this leak of personal data. We await the results of the investigation by Mexico’s transparency institute, which we hope will be prompt and thorough,” a Reuters spokesperson said. The institute is an autonomous government agency.

The reporters provided the personal data at the request of Mexico’s presidential office as part of its vetting of journalists who participate in President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily morning press conference.

Lopez Obrador said the unlawful disclosure was the result of a hack, and suggested it was perpetrated by his political opponents “in an attempt to sow the idea that we pursue and censor, that we’re dictators,” though he provided no evidence.

Alberto Morales Mendoza, an El Universal reporter whose data was breached, expressed concern about his address becoming widely known and being at risk of financial crimes.

“What I’m most worried about is possible identity theft and that someone misuses my personal data to commit fraud,” said Mr. Morales, designated as the paper’s spokesman on the matter.

A Mexican journalist whose data was taken and who has previously faced death threats said, “I obviously feel like the risks I face have grown.”

Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists outside active war zones as reporters investigate its notorious organized crime and corruption. International free-speech organization Article 19 has documented 163 journalist murders in Mexico since 2000.

Photos of passports, Mexican government-issued identity cards and work visas, all containing potentially sensitive data, began circulating online and in some local media reports on Friday following the data leak.

Officials informed journalists of the “possible violation” on Monday after some saw images of their personal documents in news reports.

The government’s digital strategy coordinator said computer systems did not send an alert about the hack because the data was accessed with a password. — Reuters

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