Espionage. A word that burst into the headlines in Catalonia on Monday through the revelations of cyber-snooping against pro-independence Catalans using state-owned software has also become an international trending topic as the implications of the so-called CatalanGate scandal have become clearer. This Friday, The Washington Post has published a devastating editorial railing against governments that practice cyberespionage against political leaders or citizens: "Democracies shouldn't surrender to a future of limitless surveillance," the headline reads. The newspaper quotes the Israeli company NSO Group, creators and owners of the Pegasus cyberespionage program, on its boast that "almost all governments in Europe are using our tools." "Surveillance software has become the world's weapon of choice," the newspaper says, underlining that it's not only authoritarian regimes that rely on third-party tools for high-tech snooping, but also democracies. That's why the publisher is urgently calling for "global regulation."
The Post cites some examples of Pegasus users, such as Germany, Poland, and Belgium (although it does not admit it, says the US paper), and then explains the case of CatalanGate: "A report from the University of Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab reveals that at least 65 individuals in Catalonia with links to the separatist movement saw their devices infected with spyware - including every single member of the European Parliament who voted for Catalan independence. In some cases, their family members became targets, too," the newspaper says. It then quotes the Canadians experts' serious charges against the Spanish authorities, who are implicated by "strong circumstantial evidence” as the most likely perpetrators.
"Flagrant" civil rights breaches
The prestigious US newspaper - which broke the Watergate affair 50 years ago - says that the espionage suffered by Catalan pro-independence activists appears to be a "flagrant" violation of civil liberties and says a country that carries out attacks like this "deserves condemnation". What it is proposing is for democracies to create incentives for companies and countries that want to sell or use these tools to "do so responsibly." The WaPo thus stresses the importance of regulation: "The only solution to the unchecked proliferation of NSO-style tools is for states committed to protecting civil liberties to band together to write some rules" and adds that licenses should be denied to any buyer with a record of abuse or without a framework to protect human rights. "The point isn’t that no form of spyware should ever be used to engage in legitimate spying" against foreign targets or terrorists, explains the newspaper, but rather that "spyware use should be governed by the rule of law".
Warning to Spanish government
Catalan president Pere Aragonès has today warned Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez that the Pegasus software espionage scandal directed against dozens of Catalans, could bring down his government. In an interview with Spanish public television, the president of Catalonia recalled that the government took a very different position when former Spanish police commissioner Villarejo linked the CNI secret service to the 2017 Rambla terrorist attack, in marked contrast to its reaction now. "Then they gave a resounding no, while now we're in a blackout. They are not saying anything." The head of the Catalan government recalled that the votes of his party, ERC, are essential for the parliamentary solvency of Sánchez's minority Spanish government, and he urged the prime minister to try to restore confidence "which is now at zero" if he does not want his government to be affected.