25/04/2022

Not so secret

3 min
Afers (little) reserved

For a decade now, communications in Catalonia have not been secure. That is to say, for a decade many people in Catalonia have feared – and now know for sure – that the privacy of their conversations and everything they store on their mobile phones is not private and can be leaked at any time. That their mobile phone can record them in any situation.

The conviction that espionage among politicians, activists and journalists existed has lasted so long and is so widespread that everyone knows someone who leaves their mobile outside the room during the more discreet meetings. Some institutions have even enabled safes outside important offices. Some people make jokes of greeting eavesdropping spies. Many know how to inhibit a phone signal using tin foil or by buying a Faraday bag online for only €20. Not to mention the most common applications being abandoned en masse for others considered safer, which have increasingly made their way onto many Catalans' phones since 2017. The most skilled, to avoid infecting the operating system, often change mobile phones by keeping their SIM and phone number, but burning their device.

That everyone suspected it does not make confirmation of spying on about sixty politicians' and activists's phones, as well as their relatives and lawyers, less serious. Yet after this major breach denounced by the New Yorker based on an investigation by Citizen Lab, no major consequences are expected.

At the moment, the infection has been discovered on 63 phones, but it is considered that it may be the tip of the iceberg, since only those who requested it had their phones analysed – and then only iPhone users.

Many international scandals are linked to the use of Pegasus, Israeli company NSO's star spyware, but none as repugnant as the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and contributor to the Washington Post hacked to death on the orders of the Saudi monarchy.

The traffickers of new weapons are subject to a theoretical control by the Israeli Parliament and also by democratically established bodies in the countries which have bought Pegasus, but the reality is much more imperfect. In Spain, for example, parliamentary control of the activity of the secret services has been paralysed for years. The intelligence services, which do not depend on the presidency but on the Ministry of Defence, should give explanations to the commission of official secrets, but it has not been constituted for three years because its members have to be elected with a three-fifths majority in Parliament. This has not happened as the right has vetoed pro-independence parties from taking part.

Therefore, in practice, there is no accountability for what is done with reserved funds nor for who is affected by the State's espionage. Until today, the Spanish government has looked the other way, accompanied by the majority of the Madrid media system. Sánchez visited Zelenski with a grim face, confident that at home the storm would pass, this time too, and the issue will rot away while pro-independence supporters shout in the desert.

The mass espionage points to the State and government insinuations that point to Russia can only be a puerile joke. The New Yorker speaks of "strong circumstantial evidence" pointing to the connection with the Spanish authorities. The actions of the State are unacceptable for anyone who considers that the rules of democracy are not tailor-made for the powerful. That the Washington Post states in an editorial that "when democracies engage in violations of civil liberties as flagrant as those in Catalonia appear to be, they deserve condemnation" means that the Spanish state has a new and serious reputation problem. A further weakening of democratic quality which will be assumed with total contempt.

No unbiased judge can have authorised at least sixty wiretaps once the events of 2017 had already been tried in a context of de-escalation and reestablishment of dialogue.

Minister Bolaños will visit Barcelona this Sunday to try to put out the fire. The Catalan side claims that "relations will never be the same" and that "trust takes a long time to establish and this has blown it up" and predicts "a change of strategy in the Spanish Parliament". Today Spanish democracy is even weaker at the international level, but it has already assumed the wear and tear of not facing up politically its great state crisis, which is Catalonia. Neither has the PSOE.

Today neither ERC nor the PSOE are interested in breaking off definitively or setting fire the option of a negotiating table that does not produce results. But putting an end to the crisis without there being consequences not only sinks Spanish democratic credibility even further, but also favours those who see a victory of the PP as a way to revive an independence movement currently bereft of direction.

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