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Spanish Prime Minister pledges to reform intelligence services after phone hacking scandal

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez pledged on Thursday to further regulate and monitor the country’s spy agencies following the discovery of unauthorized spyware on the phones of top politicians earlier this year.

In April, the Citizen Lab, a research center based at the University of Toronto, published findings showing that Pegasus spyware had been found on the cellphones of officials from the ERC, the Catalan separatist party. Spanish government officials said earlier this month that phones used by Prime Minister Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles were also infected with the spyware.

The digital spy tool is made by Israel-based NSO Group and has long been used to monitor dissidents and activists.

The incidents caused a rift between Sánchez’s minority party and the ERC in part because of lack of knowledge regarding who was behind the intrusions. The ERC, which led a failed independence bid in 2017, assumed Madrid were responsible for the scandal.

Sánchez confirmed that 18 of the 60 infected phones belonging to people linked to the separatist party were court-ordered and cleared by Spain‘s National Intelligence Center (CNI).

The Citizen Lab called the hacks “detached from the Spanish administration”, adding that they considered it to be the work of “unknown actors”, AFP reported. Prime Minister Sánchez told the public on Thursday that his administration was preparing to “strengthen judicial oversight” over the CNI to “prevent these security breaches from happening again.”

Sánchez also discussed new legislation to replace the current Classified Information Law – enacted under a dictatorship in 1968 – to better conform to democracy and “constitutional principles”.

Emma Vail is a writing intern for The Record. She is currently studying Anthropology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Northeastern University. After creating her own blog in 2018, she decided to embark on journalism and deepen her experience by joining the team.