Catalan independence leaders accuse Spain of mass surveillance campaign | News | DW

Leaders of the Catalan independence movement said on Monday the Spanish government was spying on at least 65 people after a report by Canadian research center Citizen Lab found controversial Israeli spyware Pegasus had been installed on their phones .

The phones are believed to have been hacked between 2017 and 2020, when relations between Barcelona and Madrid were at their lowest following an independence referendum that Spain sought to overturn.

The kind of spying they accuse the government of is illegal in Spain.

Who was targeted?

Pedro Sanchez of Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) has been prime minister since June 2018, after a successful no-confidence motion against former prime minister Mariano Rajoy. The software was installed on phones when Rajoy was at the helm. It is unclear whether Sanchez’s government has been informed of the power shift, although former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has pointed the finger at both governments.

Among those targeted are current Catalan leader Pere Aragones, who was then vice-president of the region, former regional leaders Quim Torra and Artur Mas, as well as members of the European and Catalan parliaments and independent civil organizations.

“We have been spied on massively and illegally through software that only states can possess,” Puigdemont tweeted.

“Politicians, lawyers and activists are all victims of the Spanish state’s dirty war,” he added.

What is Pegasus?

Pegasus was developed by the Israeli cyber-weapons company NSO Group. It can remotely turn on a phone’s camera or microphone and can collect data from almost any smartphone running Android or iOS operating systems.

It was first discovered in 2016 when it was discovered on the phone of a human rights activist under surveillance by the UAE government, and has been criticized for its use against dissidents and other activists around the world.

Security services in EU countries such as Estonia, Finland and Germany have either used the software or entered into negotiations to purchase it. The FBI in the United States reportedly tested the software but decided not to use it.

After years of tension, the enmity between Madrid and Barcelona began to subside in 2020 after the Spanish government began talks with pro-independence leaders and socialist Prime Minister Sanchez pardoned nine jailed separatist leaders.

es/jsi (AP, AFP)

Edward K. Thompson