Spain boosts regulation of intelligence services after spyware scandal

Madrid, May 26 (EFE).- The Spanish government announced on Thursday a new official secrets bill and reforms to the National Intelligence Center (CNI) after the agency acknowledged its use of Pegasus spyware to infiltrate mobile phones belonging to pro-Catalan independence politicians and activists, including elected officials.

Prime minister Pedro Sánchez told parliament the new law would “strengthen judicial control” over the country’s secret services and respect the privacy and rights of citizens.

“We are going to continue working to redouble security and shield it as much as possible in the future,” he said, adding that the new head of Spain’s secret service would report to Congress, Spain’s lower parliament, on an annual basis.

Sánchez said the move would avoid illegal use of spyware technology and that the government would commit to ongoing evaluation and monitoring of new technologies that could pose a threat in the future.

The spyware scandal broke in mid April after reports found that the CNI had spied on the regional leader of Catalonia and over a dozen other separatist activists and politicians by infiltrating their cell phones. The use of the spyware was conducted with judicial approval.

A few weeks later, reports surfaced that mobile phones belonging to Sánchez and defense minister Margarita Robles had been illegally tapped using Pegasus software, although the government said those breaches had come from a foreign source.

The government removed Paz Esteban from her post as CNI chief after she confirmed the agency had hacked the phones of Catalan regional president and leader of the pro-independence ERC party Pere Aragonès and some 20 other prominent separatists.

The spyware scandal was first revealed by a New Yorker article citing research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab research center.

Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, is marketed as a tool for governments to employ against terror threats and organized crime. EFE


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