DEMOCRACIES DO NOT SPY
Dehumanising opponents to the point of turning them into enemies is the best way to end up depriving them of their most basic rights. It starts by singling them out, then attacking and demonising them, and finally bringing about a situation in which these people – now enemies – have no rights and can be targets of any arbitrary acts.
This is not new and a dynamic that has been seen in other places – although in Spain too – and at other times in history, when well-defined groups - blacks, gipsies, Jews, Communists – can be subjected to anything because they have no rights or are not even seen as real people.
This process of dehumanising opponents, now enemies, has led to an operation of mass spying against important figures of the Catalan national minority through the use of the Pegasus system, which is nothing more than a sophisticated and perverse 21st century weapon of war that through the mobile phone of those affected allows unlimited access to private information and everything that happens near the said telephone.
I won’t go into details about how Pegasus works, needless to say that by allowing unlimited access to our privacy, we are stripped, disarmed and prevented from keeping the most sacred part of our existence private: the intimacy of our communications. We have been treated as outcasts devoid of any human attribute that allows us to enjoy the same rights as those who persecute us and who consider themselves possessors of the truth.
The red lines crossed since the start of the mass spying operation against the Catalan national minority and those around them are a symptom of the intensity of a disease that affects Spain, which they not only do not want to talk about, but which they deny: the lack of democratic culture, which is the basis on which the hatred of national minorities has been built and now expressed against Catalans.
In no country with a minimal democratic base would such a mass spying operation like this, and which is just the tip of the iceberg of everything they have done and everything that will come out, go unpunished, no matter how hard investigating who is responsible would be.
In no country with a minimal democratic base would such a mass spying operation like this, and which is just the tip of the iceberg of everything they have done and everything that will come out, find any support once i discovered, nor would there be commentators, nor panellists, nor politicians trying to justify it with such childish arguments as national security, the indissoluble unity of the nation, or even an alleged Russian threat.
In no country with a minimal democratic base would such a mass spying operation like this, and which is just the tip of the iceberg of everything they have done and everything that will come out, lead a parliament to refuse to create a commission of inquiry to, at the least, try to work out the political responsibilities that emerge from such a criminal act.
In no country with a minimal democratic base would such a mass spying operation like this, and which is just the tip of the iceberg of everything they have done and everything that will come out, lead to drawing distinctions between alleged legal and illegal spying when by definition all spying is illegal and, when done within the same state and against the citizens of that state, is also immoral.
As here we have a clear distortion of how democracies operate – and I refer to democracies that need no qualifying adjective – it seems necessary to repeat time and again that democracies do not spy on their citizens, democracies do not discriminate against national minorities, democracies do not spend public resources on committing crimes and, when something goes wrong, democracies act quickly, rigorously and without avoiding the final consequences, whatever they may be.
What has emerged so far about the use of Pegasus against the Catalan national minority, and which is only the beginning of what will eventually emerge, is more than enough to identify the existence of a systemic or widespread problem in Spain in relation to at least one specific national group. It is a problem that does not have an easy solution, but, above all, a problem to which genuine democrats must not and cannot turn a blind eye.
In a matter such as this, which affects the central core of fundamental rights, there is no room for neutrality or keeping one’s distance because to take such a position is basically to side with the violator of these basic and inalienable rights that every human enjoys, even Catalans. Keeping one’s distance is to side with the perpetrator of serious crimes rather than to take the side of the victims or, at the very least, of the law.
It is useless to bandy around the word democracy or to qualify it in any way if at the same time a perversion of the magnitude of ’Catalangate’ is happening or being tolerated. I insist: in a democracy these things do not happen, and to say otherwise is to show your true colours.
However, based on everything we already know, and while we wait for it all to come out, it is clear that if there is a real desire to put things right, if democracy is genuinely part of the DNA, what has been revealed should serve to begin a change of paradigm and the abandonment of a particular model that was implanted during a transition that has shown itself to be little more than a continuation of Francoism.
To put it more clearly, if the government of Pedro Sánchez is really committed to democracy – without qualifying it with adjectives – right now there is no better opportunity to lead a process of change built on a rigorous investigation of what has been revealed about ’Catalangate’ so far. Spain will have few opportunities to properly deal with what has happened, to investigate, to seek justice and, based on the results, to build a true democratic system in which national minorities can express themselves, decide their own futures and, above all, not become victims of a criminal dynamic like the one that is now being uncovered.
’Catalangate’ is so serious that we must not forget something more essential: by every means there has been an attempt to prevent the internationalisation of the political conflict and, for this reason, we have been persecuted and repressed in a miserable and twisted way to the point that, thanks to the criminal acts of those who believe that everything is justified if it is for the homeland, not only is Europe’s gaze upon us but the irrefutable data show everyone that Spain is in a position that can only be compared to openly dictatorial states after having voluntarily joined the Bahrain club, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and so many others that have also benefited from the Pegasus program to spy on and repress their enemies.
In any case, I insist, we must remember that such criminal acts do not happen in a democracy and that, if they were to occur, they would always be investigated, clarified and the corresponding political and criminal responsibilities be apportioned. If I were part of the Spanish government, rather than seeing ’Catalangate’ as a problem, I would see it as an opportunity, perhaps the last one, to complete an unfinished transition and put an end to the underhand dynamic that Spain has been immersed in since the death of Franco.
On March 18, Citizen Lab, a Canadian laboratory that specialises in digital security, published an investigation that the Pegasus spyware program had been used to put Catalonia’s independence movement under surveillance since 2017. Some 65 members of the independence movement were identified as targets, including four Catalan presidents and two parliament speakers, as well as other elected officials, activists, lawyers, computer developers and their relatives.
Catalangate, as the affair became known, is perhaps the largest ever case of certified cyber-surveillance. It has come to dominate headlines in Catalonia in recent weeks, and has led to a freeze in relations between the Catalan and Spanish governments. Citizen Lab did not explicitly name a perpetrator of the cyber-attacks, but the evidence strongly points to the authorities.
The case has also been covered by foreign media outlets, such as The New Yorker magazine, which published an extensive report that included the case that was titled “How democracies spy on their citizens”. Below, lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who represents former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont – one of the targets of the spying – explores the same subject as the US magazine and insists that spying is not possible in a true democracy.