International organizations demand independent investigation over Catalangate

More than 30 groups argue that Spanish intelligence agency fails to comply with democratic standards

VilaWeb
VilaWeb / Catalan News Agency
05.05.2022 - 18:04
Actualització: 13.06.2022 - 10:12

International human rights and civil liberties organizations have expressed their “outright rejection” of the use of Pegasus spyware “against human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, members of civil society organizations, political representatives and the general public.” Digital espionage is not “legal or democratic” and an independent investigation is needed to provide “clarity,” according to the manifesto presented on Tuesday and signed by more than 30 groups, including European Democratic Lawyers and the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights.

Luca Gervanosi, director of NovAct, an international institute for nonviolent action, said that European regulation is needed, and urged both the Catalan president and Spanish prime minister to make a commitment not to buy or use the software. The groups also called for proper regulation of Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI), criticizing the current rules as “vague”, “indefinite”, and falling short of “the standards of international human rights law.”

Not legal at all

Anaïs Franquesa, a lawyer for the human rights group Irídia, explained that the software intercepts all the contents of the device, all apps used and when, as well as geolocation data. “It’s an extremely broad scope, and it’s not at all legal,” she said. In the same vein, Gervanosi warned that recently there has been a “proliferation of surveillance techniques.” “The widespread use of this technology is a flagrant violation of the right to privacy, brings a great deal of vulnerability to victims and involves the violation of the right to [legal] defense and professional secrecy in certain cases,” he said. Gervanosi reiterated the need to end such practices and said that they threatened the rule of law.

The honorary president of European Democratic Lawyers, Robert Sabata, warned that this type of espionage comes from a very authoritarian type of democracy and that there must be a full review and a process that can provide “transparency”. The manifesto also points out that the interference published by Citizen Lab’s study should not be understood “in isolation”, but as part of a set of tools aimed at “persecution of critical voices and political dissent, and the reduction of the role of civil society.”

Role of Spanish intelligence

The role of the Spanish intelligence service was also criticized. Franquesa said Spanish law “legitimizes the execution of secret investigations without specifying the circumstances or mechanisms. This opens up a very dangerous field, as the law does not guarantee individuals the minimum degree of protection to which they are entitled in a democratic state.”

She also pointed that the law in question is “outdated,” from 2002, and doesn’t take into account this type of “use of technology in investigations.” “We will send the petition to the parties in the [Spanish] congress and [Catalan] parliament because it is absolutely unsustainable. This is not the regulation that a democratic state should have.”

Catalangate

In other developments on Tuesday, the Catalan parliament announced it will launch an inquiry into Catalangate while the Spanish congress ruled out a similar course of action. Spain’s top criminal court, the National Court, has opened a case over the alleged use of Pegasus, but focusing solely on its use on phones belonging to Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez and defense minister Margarida Robles.

Former Catalan president, Quim Torra, has also announced that he will file a complaint against Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez after being allegedly spied on with Pegasus spyware. Torra is one of over 60 Catalan pro-independence figures named as victims in the espionage controversy.

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