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Catalan independence leaders targeted by spyware, says rights group

Catalonia’s regional head accused Spain of spying on its citizens Monday after a rights group claimed that his phone and dozens of others belonging to Catalan pro-independence figures were infected by spyware from sovereign states.

Citizen Lab’s digital rights group discovered that more than 60 people were linked to the Catalan separatist movements. This included several European Parliament members, other lawyers, and activists. The spyware was made by Israel’s NSO Group.

NSO claimed that the allegations were false.

Pere Aragones, the Catalan leader, tweeted “It’s a disgrace.” “This is an extremely serious attack against democracy and fundamental rights.”


He described the use of surveillance software as “crossing a red line” and demanded clarifications from the Spanish government.

NSO, which sells the software as a tool for law enforcement, claimed that Citizen Lab and Amnesty International were not involved in the investigation, but had published other studies about Pegasus. They also stated that NSO’s reports targeted the company with inaccurate and unsubstantiated information.

“Information regarding these allegations is, yet again false and could not relate to NSO products for technological or contractual reasons,” a spokesperson stated via email, without explaining why.

Citizen Lab, Toronto, said that almost all the infections occurred between 2017 and 2020 following the Catalonia independence bid. This was in response to the crisis that erupted in Spain.

The company stated that it couldn’t conclusively attribute spying operations to any specific entity, but added: “Strong circumstantial proof suggests a nexus between Spanish authorities.”

Citizen Lab started its investigation in 2020 after several Catalan lawmakers were warned by researchers using Facebook’s instant messaging service WhatsApp that their phones had been hacked.

Fernando Marlaska, the Interior Minister, denied that any Spanish intelligence services or government had been involved.

Newspaper El Pais reported later that the software was available to Spain’s intelligence agency CNI.

Amnesty International urged Spain to investigate the use of Pegasus and reveal whether it was a client of NSO.

Pegasus has been called out by the European Union’s data protection watchdog, in response to allegations that it was being used by client governments for spying on journalists, rights activists and politicians.

It was reported last week that the software had targeted several EU officials. NSO stated in a statement that the hacking attempts were not its fault and said the targeting described could not have occurred with NSO’s tools.


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