Spain Targets Vulnerable Users on Eve of Review at UN Human Rights Council


UPDATE 2/2/2015: In a victory for the rule of law, Spanish Judge Javier Gómez Bermúdez ended the prolonged detention of seven defendants swept up in a major terrorism case in Spain by releasing them on bail. Each of the accused is required to pay a €3000 fine and to report to authorities weekly. Access applauds the decision by the court to allow the defendants a fair trial, and reiterates our call that the use of secure and privacy-enhancing communications services like RiseUp cannot be used as a proxy for criminality.

On Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council will review the human rights record of the government of Spain as part of its Universal Periodic Review. Spain should be named and shamed for its worrying treatment on digital rights issues. In its latest encroachment, authorities have criminalized the use of legitimate encryption and security tools.

The Universal Periodic Review process at the UN Human Rights Council reviews the human rights record of each UN member country every four years. During the review, the Council can ask questions of the country in question and issue recommendations. Civil society organizations can participate in the process at multiple stages, and Access has provided submissions on digital rights on various occasions.

It’s high time the Human Rights Council shined the spotlight on Spain. In December, Spanish authorities raided 14 houses and social centers in Barcelona, Sabadell, Manresa, and Madrid, arresting nearly a dozen people. As we detailed in our statement last week:

In addition to other allegations, authorities claim that the use of RiseUp secure and privacy-enhancing communications services is tantamount to terrorism. They have continued to detain seven people. RiseUp.net is a Seattle-based collective that provides secure email hosting and other services to activists around the world.

We argued that given that RiseUp.net is a volunteer-run service that supports civil society and human rights communities around the world, using it “as an indicator of criminality is disingenuous at best, and at worst an attack on anyone who depends on digital security to operate safely.”

The attack on RiseUp is the latest in a series of troubling violations of human rights in the name of national security by Spanish authorities. In November, the Ley De Seguridad Ciudadana, also known as the Ley Mordaza (Gag Law), was approved by the lower house of the legislature and may soon be approved by the Senate in February. The law would severely limit the right of assembly and protest and grant authorities with dangerous powers to search and detain citizens. It would allow police to place journalists on a black list and to quickly deport people without adequate due process.

Access calls on UN member states to recommend that Spain halt the criminalization of encryption, and to protect the rights of all users in the country.

photo by Daniel Dionne on Creative Commons