Catalan government denies knowledge of plan to set up secret service in region

Official body revealed to have been compiling information about activists

Ciutadans leader Albert Rivera holds up the report in the Catalan parliament on Wednesday.
Ciutadans leader Albert Rivera holds up the report in the Catalan parliament on Wednesday.albert garcia

From an antivirus service to an IT pirate, and from IT pirate to a shipwreck. That sums up the short lifespan of Cesicat, a body set up in 2010 to ensure the security of telecommunications in the Catalonia region, but is now accused of spying on citizens.

Internet activist group Anonymous leaked hundreds of documents containing information about the project on to the internet. The revelations, which had been stolen by a former employee, caused an outcry among the public.

The documents revealed that Cesicat was snooping on social networking sites to monitor the activity of campaigners and left-wing journalists. They also showed that the heads of the body were planning on converting Cesicat into a kind of secret service for the region, should Catalonia eventually break away from Spain, as many of its political heavyweights want to see.

The theft and publication of the documents has left the Catalan regional government on the back foot. Despite the fact that the incident has been known about since the summer, Artur Mas’s government has avoided taking any official steps given that this would, among other things, be a tacit admission that Cesicat was carrying out activities beyond its remit.

Government sources have told EL PAÍS that an IT specialist who worked at the organization from September to December 2012 accessed the manager’s computer and copied hundreds of files and emails on to a mass data storage device.

The government is yet to officially admit that the documents are authentic

Mas’s government is yet to officially admit that the documents are authentic. Sources from the police and the regional government, however, have confirmed Cesicat was carrying out these activities, but they argue that they did not constitute illegitimate activity given that the social networks monitored are open and visible to any user.

Employees at Cesicat had been trained by IT specialists and former hackers, and were working with an annual budget of a million euros. According to the leaked documents, not only were they spending their time fighting computer viruses, but they were also monitoring the activity on sites such as Twitter of activists with regard to the anniversary of the 15-M social protest movement, campaigns against Spanish lender Bankia, and demonstrations connected with toll road fees in the region.

The reports also included the names of lawyers, journalists and media organizations linked to social activism. On one occasion, Cesicat put together a profile with the personal and professional details of photojournalist Jordi Borràs, who has filed a complaint with the Spanish data protection agency.

According to sources from Cesicat, the reports were filed upon the request of the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. But the Mossos have denied this, claiming that Cesicat was acting alone and, what’s more, pointing out that the value of the information gleaned from Twitter was practically zero.

Most worrying for political leaders in Catalonia is the existence of a report from a senior civil servant detailing a project to convert Cesicat into a secret service should the region gain independence. Ciutadans politician Albert Rivera brandished the report in the Catalan parliament on Wednesday, demanding an explanation from Mas. The regional leader replied saying he had no knowledge of the document, and that the government had not commissioned any such project.

The leader of the conservative Popular Party in Catalonia, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, announced on Wednesday that she would be taking the case to the public prosecutor.

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