MADRID – The Spanish government will tighten judicial control over the country’s intelligence agency, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Thursday, weeks after the agency admitted it had spied on several pro-independence supporters in the region of Catalonia with judicial authorization.
The country’s National Intelligence Center, or CNI, has been under fire since April, after Canada-based digital rights group Citizen Lab alleged that the phones of more than 60 Catalan politicians, lawyers and activists had been hacked with controversial spyware. The CNI later acknowledged in a closed-door meeting with Spanish lawmakers that it had hacked into the cellphones of “some” of these politicians.
On Thursday Sánchez announced plans to overhaul the 2002 law that sets out judicial control of the intelligence agency.
“It’s aimed at strengthening the guarantees of this control, while also ensuring maximum respect for the individual and political rights of people,” he told parliament.
His government would also seek to replace the current law on official secrets, which dates back to 1968 when the country was still under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.
“It’s imperative to adapt regulations to democratic and constitutional principles,” Sánchez added.
The extent of the spying scandal widened earlier this month after the government revealed that an “external” power infected the cellphones of Sánchez, the prime minister, and Defense Minister Margarita Robles with Pegasus spyware last year. It later emerged that the phone of Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, the head of Spain’s police and border control agencies, was also infected with the spyware around the same time.
The announcement of legislative reform comes weeks after the Spanish government fired the director of the intelligence agency, Paz Esteban, in what opposition politicians labelled as an effort to temper anger among Catalan separatist parties on which the Socialist-led minority government often relies on for parliamentary support.