Spain pushing for right to install government spyware on citizens' devices

The Spanish government wants the power to install spyware on mobile devices and PCs belonging to suspected criminals.
Written by Steve Evans, Contributor

The Spanish government is looking to pass legislation that would allow police to install spyware on suspected criminal's computers, according to a report.

Spanish daily El País reported on Tuesday that the bill, drawn up by the ministry of justice, is still in its draft phase. But should it be passed into law, police authorities would have the power to install spyware on computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones and even USBs and external hard drives in order to harvest personal information about the owner.

The bill states that targets would have to be suspected of terrorism, organised crime, child pornography, online fraud or cyber-bullying offences carrying a minimum sentence of three years for the use of spyware to be authorised. The spyware would be installed remotely, the report said, and the target machine would have to be physically located in Spain.

The text of the draft bill is potentially worrying. According to El País, it states that anyone "who knows the functioning of the operating system or the measures applied to protect data contained therein will be required to facilitate the necessary information". This means anyone capable of retrieving data on a device would have to assist the police if required – potentially including suspects' partners or workers in IT departments being dragged into cases.

The possibilities that lie within this proposed bill raise clear questions over privacy. Installing spyware on personal devices would give authorities access not only data but also passwords to email accounts, social networks and any other online service the suspect may be using. Anyone sharing a device with someone suspected of a serious crime also risks having their privacy invaded if this bill becomes law.

Spanish authorities have said that no formal decision on the use of spyware has been made, despite the wording of the draft bill. Sources told El País that the government will gather feedback from IT and communications experts before reaching a final decision.

If this bill does become law it will be the latest example of the measures taken by governments to gather data on its citizens. It was revealed today, for example, that in the US Verizon has been forced to hand over all call data to the National Security Agency (NSA). This means phone numbers, duration, location and time of every phone call made over Verizon's network is to be handed to authorities.

In the UK, the proposed Communications Data Bill — known as the Snoopers' Charter — would give the government powers to seize data related to communications including emails, web browsing history and social media activity. It was nearly killed off earlier this year before suggestions emerged that it was to be revived following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in London last week. Backers of the proposed law said it could have prevented the tragedy. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have however voiced their opinions against the proposed bill.

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