Spain: New law threatens internet freedoms
On 5 November 2019, the Royal Decree-Law 14/2019 that had been adopted on 31 October was published in the Spanish Official State Gazette (BOE). This was just five days before the general elections that would take place on 10 November, under an undefined “exceptionality and urgency”, and justified by the “challenges posed by new technologies from the point of view of public security”. Those challenges being, according to the Decree, “disinformation activities” and,“interference in political participation processes”.
This Royal Decree-Law modifies the regulation on the internet and electronic communications in order to grant the government greater powers to control these technologies in a range of vaguely defined situations. The Decree-Law defines an access to the network increasingly administered by the state, with no obligation for a judicial ruling to limit the access. This could pose a threat to human rights, particularly to that of freedom of expression.
From now on, and without any judicial intervention to prevent possible abuses and safeguard citizens’ rights, the Government in office, by a decision of the Ministry of Economy and Enterprise, has the power to intervene, lock, or shut down the internet and electronic communication networks or services, including the “infrastructures capable of hosting public electronic communications networks, their associated resources or any element or level of the network or service necessary”. This intervention is defined in the following terms (in *bold*, what has been included or modified through the Royal Decree-Law):
1. Prior to the beginning of the sanctioning procedure, the competent body of the Ministry of Economy and Business may order, by means of a resolution without a prior hearing, the cessation of the alleged infringing activity when there are compelling reasons of urgency based on any of the following assumptions:
(a) *When there is an immediate and serious threat to public order, public security or national security.*
(b) When there is an immediate and serious threat to *public health. (replaces “endangering human life”)*
c) When the alleged infringing activity may cause serious damage to the functioning of public security, civil protection and emergency services.
d) When other electronic communications services or networks are seriously interfered with.
(e) *When it creates serious economic or operational problems for other providers or users of electronic communications networks or services or other users of the radio spectrum.*
In addition, other modifications have been introduced in order to reinforce the protection of private monopolies and prohibit the development and research into blockchain technologies as identification systems.
Overall, it can be considered that the Decree’s content contradicts its own explanatory memorandum that foresees the protection and the improvement of “the privacy and digital rights of the citizen” as objectives of the Decree. In its adopted form, the Decree could, on the contrary, be easily used to control and silence domestic political opposition, and to prevent mass demonstrations and strikes against unpopular government policies all around Spain. Finally, it introduces the prohibition for certain uses of blockchain and similar distributed technologies until the EU publishes guidelines on the subject – a detrimental rule for investigation and innovation in Spain.
To grant legal certainty in the protection of human rights of its citizens, and to regain their trust, the Spanish Government should reconsider the adoption of this Royal Decree-Law, which was rushed and signed without considering the implications it could involve concerning human rights.
Today in Spain as in China (only in Spanish, 07.11.2019)
Today in Spain as in China (only in Catalan, 06.11.2019)
(Contribution by Simona Levi, EDRi member Xnet, Spain)