The leader of Catalonia today accused the Spanish government of spying on citizens, after a human rights organization said that his phone, and dozens of others belonging to Catalan separatists, had been infected with spyware.
The Citizen Lab team has found that more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement have been targeted by NSO’s Pegasus spyware. Among them were many members of the European Parliament, other politicians, lawyers and activists.
The NSO said the information about these allegations was incorrect.
“It is a shame. A very serious attack on fundamental rights and democracy,” Catalan leader Pere Aragon said on Twitter. He described the use of the spyware as a “red line” and called for an explanation from the Spanish government, which declined to comment when asked by Reuters.
The NSO, which promotes the software as a law enforcement tool, said Citizen Lab and Amnesty International had submitted inaccurate and unfounded reports to target it. Amnesty International is not involved in the investigation into Catalonia, but has published other studies on Pegasus in the recent past.
According to the Toronto-based Citizen Lab, all the infections took place between 2017-20, after the “referendum” on Catalonia’s independence that plunged Spain into the worst political crisis in decades. He acknowledged that their numbers were not enough to defeat Espionage, but added that “strong, occasional evidence suggests a link with the Spanish authorities.”
Citizen Lab began its research in 2020 after researchers working on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service warned many Catalan MPs – including Parliament Speaker Roger Torrent – that their phones were being monitored. At the time, Interior Minister Fernando Marlaska denied any involvement of the Spanish government or intelligence services. But then the newspaper El Pais wrote that the CNI intelligence service did have access to this software.
Amnesty International has urged Spain to investigate the use of Pegasus and reveal whether it is an NSO customer.
The European Data Protection Agency has called for a ban on the use of Pegasus following allegations that the company’s client governments misused the software to spy on activists, journalists and politicians. Last week, Reuters reported that many high-ranking European Union officials had come under fire. The NSO responded that it was not responsible for these attempts, explaining that the targeting described by the agency “could not be done with the NSO tools”.