The European Commission strongly condemns "any illegal access to communication systems" or any form of illicit interception of users' communications. In this regard, it recalls that as the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has made clear, the "mere reference to national security" by member states "is not sufficient to exclude the application of EU law". Moreover, it points out that in the event that EU law is not applicable, member states are bound by the guarantees laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights. The text is a response to the questions asked last November by Catalan MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín, in which they denounced the espionage against 38 activists from pro-independence organizations carried out since 2017, reflected in a Spanish interior ministry report and justified by the authorities on "anti-terrorist" grounds. These revelations last October came on top of the mass Pegasus espionage against the independence movement - affecting at least 60 people - revealed by the Catalangate report in April 2022.
"Closely following" the investigation
The European commissioner for Internal Affairs, Ylva Johansson, on behalf of the Commission, has indicated that the EU institution is "aware of these allegations" and is monitoring the case closely. In this regard, she points out that they are following the inquiry committee of the European Parliament in its investigation of the use of Pegasus and other surveillance software. She stated that they will take note of the final report and any recommendations from the inquiry, whose work has recently been extended. Members of the chamber's Pegasus committee will make an investigative visit to Madrid on March 20th.
The Commission makes a general statement about the use of such methods, recalling that the EU directive on ePrivacy prohibits the interception of communications and the storage of and access to information in the terminal equipment without the consent of the user concerned. This same directive allows member states to adopt legislative measures to restrict rights when it is "a necessary, appropriate and proportionate measure within a democratic society to safeguard national security, defence, public security and to combat criminal offences", although, as the Commission adds, European justice has established that a "mere reference to national security" does not give member states carte blanche to act outside European law. In addition, Johansson remarks that EU states are also bound by the guarantees contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, with the European Treaty on Human Rights as the maximum guarantee.
Espionage with Pegasus spyware
Catalan pro-independence MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí and Toni Comín sent a letter to the European Commission last November 22nd in which they asked a series of questions to find out the degree of knowledge the Commission had about the espionage by the Spanish government on members of Catalan pro-independence organisations and other Catalan civil society groups. Among the questions, the MEPs asked the European institution if it was aware "of the practices used by Spain to fight against non-violent organizations composed of elected members and civil society". In addition, they also wanted to know the opinion of the Commission regarding the fact that the espionage coincided with the formation of the Catalan government in 2021. Finally, they inquired whether the Commission considered "the indiscriminate use of spyware" against MPs, councillors, lawyers and activists to be justifiable on grounds of "the fight against terrorism"