Monday

28th Sep 2020

Spain passes law to kill off 'online' Catalan republic

  • 'I'm telling Catalan separatists. There won't be independence either offline or online. The state of law will be as forceful online than in the real world,' Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said (Photo: PSOE)

The Spanish government can now shut down digital services without a court warrant as a "threat of public order," in a move by caretaker prime minister Pedro Sanchez which he said was aimed at heading off 'online independence' for Catalan separatists.

The main aim of the legal modification - which entered into force on Tuesday (5 November) - is to end with the digital Republic of Catalonia, according to Sánchez.

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"I'm telling Catalan separatists. There won't be independence either offline or online. The state of law will be as forceful online than in the real world," Sánchez said.

Sánchez's cabinet had urgently modified several laws concerning public security in digital administration and telecommunications, without a parliamentary process.

For the former president of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, the text passed by the caretaker government a few days before fresh national elections on 10 November has a "devastating scope".

Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party includes in its electoral program the idea to create a 'digital Catalan republic', ahead of a real one.

The legal text justifies its approval for, among other reasons, "the recent and serious events that occurred in part of the Spanish territory" - without clarifying which it refers to.

The legislative modifications allow the Spanish government to order the urgent removal - without a prior hearing and in a preventive manner - any type of digital communication for reasons of public safety, civil protection, emergencies, defence of human life or interference with other networks.

Regions vs State

The text also establishes that all servers that use data from the Spanish public administrations must be located in the EU instead of in 'digital paradises' - where digital traces are difficult to control.

According to Sánchez, online data from public administrations will not be made available for "spurious ends".

The government of the Generalitat of Catalonia "is using these data for their digital republic [and] to destabilise the [Spanish] state from the online world," he added.

However, the effect of the updated legislation will not be an easy task.

The main problem in blocking or taking down websites is when their servers are in digital paradises since it is much more difficult to monitor them.

The text also prohibits public authorities from implementing distributed technologies, such as blockchain, in digital administration.

The government of Catalonia presented last September plans for a decentralised digital project based on an application that works to guarantee the highest level of identity protection.

However, the updated legislation establishes that the national ID will be the only tool to identify a citizen "for all intents".

'A digital 155'

The government is using national security as an excuse "to try to block the digital project of a country that is being promoted by the government of Catalonia," said the Catalan minister of digital policy, Jordi Puigneró.

"We are witnessing a 'digital 155'," he added.

Article 155 allows the Spanish government to take measures in exceptional cases to restore constitutional order in any region - similar norms exist in the German, Swiss, Italian, Austrian or Portuguese constitutions.

In October 2017, the Spanish former centre-right government of Mariano Rajoy, with the support of other parties such as the socialists, applied this article to dismiss Puigdemont's cabinet.

Puigneró announced on Tuesday an offensive strategy against Sánchez in all legal and political fields to defend the competences of the government of Catalonia in the digital sector. He called the government's measures "closer to the practices of countries such as China than a state of the European Union."

This decision is part of a larger crackdown by Spanish authorities on the online activities of the separatists.

Last month, Microsoft-owned Github removed an app for organising political protests developed by a group of separatists called Democratic Tsunami - following a court takedown request sent by Spain's police.

Although Github removed the application, people can still download it through a link posted on other platforms, such as the Telegram messaging platform.

Last Thursday, Democratic Tsunami called on people to take to the streets on 9 November, on the eve of the parliamentary election.

During the last few weeks, the Spanish government has repeatedly voiced concerns about how the concentration of people in Catalonia expected for 10 November will affect the course of the election day in the region.

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Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition and misuse of public funds over their role in Catalonia's 2017 bid for independence. The possible legal immunity of some MEPs remains unanswered.

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