A new legislative decree published Tuesday in the government’s BOE official gazette has given Spain’s Economy Ministry the right in exceptional circumstances to intervene and take control of internet and telecommunications networks and services in situations in which the government determines there is a clear threat to public order, safety or national security.
After passage at a Council of Ministers meeting last Thursday, the new law was initially billed as a move to pre-empt efforts by the pro-independence leadership of Catalonia’s regional government to establish a virtual Catalan “digital Republic” online.
But, the text of ‘Real Decreto-ley 14/2019’ published in Tuesday’s BOE makes clear that the government could also use the law to directly intervene in communications networks used by violent pro-independence protesters being coordinated through the shadowy ‘Tsunami Democratic’ online sites, social media and encrypted mobile applications.
The decree makes clear that the rights to intervene in communications networks and services is granted “on an exceptional and transitory basis” and is to be used only “in certain exceptional cases that may affect public order, public safety and national security”.
The broadly stated purposes of the decree include prevention of theft or misuse of Spanish citizens’ personal data, census information or tax records, hacking of mobile phones, cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure or election databases and processes, or the spreading of disinformation (fake news) to influence election campaigns or outcomes.
While expressly prohibiting the government from intervening in the news media or news content broadcast or shared over the Internet or telecommunications networks, the law otherwise enables government intervention in “any infrastructure, associated resource or element or level of the network or service that is necessary to preserve or restore public order, public safety and national security.”
► Download & Read PDF [in Spanish] of BOE ‘Real Decreto-ley 14/2019’ …
The text published in the BOE avoids specific mention of Catalonia, but does include a thinly veiled reference to the violent ‘Tsunami Democratic’ protests by hooded demonstrators on the streets of Barcelona last month, referring to the “recent and serious events in a part of Spanish territory” as partial rationale for the new law.
In Catalonia, the so-called Comitès de Defensa de la Republica (Committees for the Defense of the Republic, or CDRs) linked to the ‘Tsunami Democratic’ protests have put out another call for a day of pro-independence and anti-government protest on Saturday, which as the last day prior to Sunday’s nationwide general election is a designated “day for reflection”, when no political campaigning is allowed.
Catalonia’s regional Generalitat government reacted to the new decree-law, saying it amounted to a “digital 155” intervention of the regional government’s powers by the central government, in reference to Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution which was invoked in 2017 in response to an unconstitutional referendum on Catalan independence.
Catalan regional government spokeswoman Meritxell Budó said Tuesday the Generalitat will contest the new law by filing an appeal for an injunction with Spain’s Tribuna Constitucional court.
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