riseupa tech collective that provides security-focused communications to activists around the world, sounded the alarm last month, when a judge in Spain ruled that using their messaging service was a practice he believed to be associated with terrorism.
Javier Gómez Bermúdez is a judge of National audience, a special high court in Spain that deals with serious crimes such as terrorism and genocide. According to press reports, he ordered arrest warrants who were carried out December 16e against suspected members of an anarchist group. The arrests were part of Operation Pandora, a coordinated campaign against “anarchist activity” that been called an attempt “to criminalize anarchist social movements”. Police seized books, mobile phones and computers and arrested 11 activists. Few details are known about the situation, since the judge declared the matter secret.
At least one legislator, David Companyon, has speculated that raids are a “cascade to gain support for the recently approved “gag law” in Spain. » new law severely restrict protests, imposing huge fines for activities such as insulting police officers (€600), burning a national flag (up to €30,000) or demonstrating outside Parliament buildings or key facilities (up to €600,000). Given the provisions of the law, it is not surprising that many see the raid, carried out against a group with political ideas that the government seems to find threatening, as linked.
In a report, Riseup rated:
Four of the detainees were released, but seven were imprisoned pending trial. The grounds given by the judge for their continued detention include the possession of certain books, “the production of publications and forms of communication”, and the fact that the defendants “used e-mails with extreme security measures, like the RISE UP server.
It is unclear what the judge means by “extreme security measures”. As Riseup highlights, “many of the “extreme security measures” used by Riseup are common best practices for online security.” It seems that the assumption inherent in the judge’s decision is that the use of services that follow best practices for online safety should be considered suspicious. This clearly goes against the presumption of innocence, a fundamental requirement of international human rights law. But what’s more, the use of highly secure services allows individuals to exercise their right to privacy and expression in the digital age while remaining safe. All New data breach and the security disaster reminds us of this.
To call the desire to be safe online “extreme” is incredibly disturbing. But that’s hardly surprising. During the “Crypt Wars” 1990s, the US government propagated the idea that strong encryption should be treated as a weapon. It may be because enhanced security makes it harder for agencies like the NSA to brazenly surveil everyone, and makes it harder to crack down on groups with political ideas that threaten the status quo. There is no doubt that anarchists fall into this category, and it is perhaps this question that worries the Spanish government.
In its statement, Riseup explains that it “has an obligation to protect the privacy of its users” and “is not willing to allow illegal backdoors or sell our users’ data to third parties.”
There is strong evidence that the NSA ensured that backdoors were incorporated into many products and services. Companies and groups like Riseup want to provide users with reliable and secure network services, even when dealing with requests from law enforcement and attorneys to hand over private user information and logs. They have developed strong policies to protect themselves from legal liability, but more importantly to protect the security and privacy of their users.
The need for this privacy and security cannot be overstated. In his historical report At the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, UN freedom of expression watchdog Frank La Rue made it clear that secure communications are essential for an open society. The Street said:
Individuals should be free to use whatever technology they choose to secure their communications, and states should not interfere with the use of encryption technologies.
Without adequate protection of privacy, security and anonymity of communications, no one can be sure that their private communications are not under the control of states.
Privacy is an essential feature of any free society. Along with the “Gag Law”, the crackdown on private and secure communications sends a worrying signal about the intentions of the Spanish government. But there is still time for the court to correct this decision. If the reason these activists are being held is really their perfectly reasonable and common decision to secure their own communications, they should be released now.