At least 65 Catalan politicians and activists were targeted by Pegasus and Candiru spyware, an investigation by the University of Toronto’s research laboratory revealed today.
Those targeted included Pere Aragonès, president of the Catalan Government, along with European Parliament members, Catalan legislators, jurists, activists and their family members.
“The operation of mass espionage against Catalan independence is an unjustifiable shame. An extremely serious attack on fundamental rights and democracy,” Aragonès tweeted.
Although the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab isn’t “conclusively attributing the operations to a specific entity,” the researchers do conclude that “strong circumstantial evidence suggests a nexus with Spanish authorities.”
Tensions have been running high between Madrid and Barcelona ever since Catalonia tried to proclaim independence after a referendum in 2017, which the Spanish supreme court ruled unconstitutional. The failed independence push led the then-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to go into exile in Belgium.
Pegasus spyware, developed by the Israeli security company NSO Group, has been used by a plethora of countries to spy on politicians, journalists and activists within and beyond the EU. Journalists revealed last July that the software was likely being used by governments across the world to keep tabs on opponents.
“The Spanish government needs to come clean over whether or not it is a customer of NSO Group. It must also conduct a thorough, independent investigation into the use of Pegasus spyware against the Catalans identified in this investigation,” said Likhita Banerji of human rights NGO Amnesty International, which peer-reviewed Citizen Lab’s research.