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A parallel police force

Illegal spying on politicians, companies and journalists is an attack on democracy

Spain deserves better than to be at the mercy of groups that behave as private police forces, in total disregard of the controls that apply to the public authorities. The documents released on Sunday and Monday by this newspaper indicate that Método 3, theoretically a private detective agency, has for a number of years been assiduously applying itself to the work of illegal recordings, telephone taps and the tailing of public officials, businessmen and journalists. The scandal is even greater in scope when we consider that its clients were political parties and companies (one of them a media firm) and that the same political party appears in both the role of victim and of purchaser of information.

This has led to a situation whereby the head of the Catalan Popular Party (PP), Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, has alleged that the company secretly recorded a lunch she had with the ex-girlfriend of Jordi Pujol Ferrusola, the son of the former regional premier Jordi Pujol; while the regional government of Castilla-la Mancha, presided by her fellow party member María Dolores de Cospedal, was supposedly a paying client of Método 3. Other documents show that a phone supplied by the PP to its former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, was also tapped — but it is not yet known by whom.

All this is not exactly unprecedented. Last year the Operation Pitiusa investigation discovered a ring of 135 persons who had been buying and selling personal documents, such as income tax statements, printouts of account transfers, medical records (even those of children) and lists of telephone numbers.

One of the figures allegedly involved in this operation also worked for Método 3. The new data now appearing confirm the extent of the networks that were dedicated to the collection and exploitation of confidential data, and the strong suspicions that the methods utilized were highly irregular.

The Interior Ministry says that closer attention is going to be paid to the investigations carried out by detective agencies. This seems to be an insufficient precaution. It is of little use to regulate the activity of detectives, as the law does already, without adequately monitoring their procedures and the party who commissions each investigation. The law must limit the scope within which these agencies work, and more harshly penalize the violation of the privacy of communication when this happens without a judicial order.

There must also be tighter regulation of the osmosis that exists between public police forces and private detective agencies; because, while we have to accept the principle that the police (or the armed forces) are a sort of breeding ground for private security agents, the state has to set down stringent rules on the conditions under which such transfers can take place.

What has been revealed so far is enough to arouse apprehensions that serious violations have been committed against constitutional liberties and rights — highly lucrative for those who do the work involved, and highly destructive of the citizen's confidence in our public institutions. How can a democratic country allow the action of parallel police forces to go unpunished?

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