Main points in Spain's controversial digital decree

Measure presented by Spanish Socialists to stop Catalonia developing "digital republic" grants authorities in Madrid "exceptional" powers

Socialist minister Nadia Calviño speaks to press at the Digital Future Society Summit (by Marta Casado Pla)
Socialist minister Nadia Calviño speaks to press at the Digital Future Society Summit (by Marta Casado Pla) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

November 30, 2019 11:07 AM

The Spanish government's new decree on digital security recently came into force without going before Congress for ratification, as it was passed in the chamber's Permanent Deputation, which assumes parliament's legislative powers when it is not in session.

The proposed measure passed thanks to the votes of conservative opposition parties, and the abstention of the Socialists' coalition partner, the left-wing Podemos party. The votes against from Catalonia's pro-independence parties were not enough to stop the bill.

Acting Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, announced the proposal during the campaign for the November 10 general election, presenting the measure as part of his government's efforts to prevent Catalonia from developing a "digital republic."

The unionist PP and Cs parties justified supporting a proposal from their political rivals on the basis that they want "to stop the Catalan digital republic," while Podemos - which was previously against it - said it abstained in return for concessions and guarantees.

Yet, the measure has caused concern in Catalonia, where parties, commentators and pressure groups have compared it with those in force in authoritarian regimes, while the Catalan government called it "anti-European" and vowed to challenge it in the courts.

Public authorities now have six months to adapt to the new rules, although it will feature in the ongoing talks between the Socialists and the pro-independence parties aimed at securing the latter's votes to invest Sánchez as the next Spanish president.

Aimed at Catalonia

The proposal's text makes no specific mention of Catalonia, but it cites "recent and serious events" on Spanish territory, taken as a veiled reference to the protests and disturbances following the sentencing of Catalan independence leaders to hefty jail terms.

Focus on public unrest

The law already allows the Spanish authorities to disrupt public online activity, but the decree specifically cites public unrest as a justification, saying the authorities can cut the internet in exceptional circumstances "affecting public order and safety and national security."

Protecting rights and freedom

The measure proposes giving the authorities wide-reaching powers to intervene in the public digital environment, but the Spanish government argues that its objective is "to protect the rights and freedoms recognized by the constitution and to guarantee public safety."

"Exceptional and temporary" control

If public order or national security is threatened, the measure would give the state "exceptional and temporary" powers to take control of the internet and related services, such as "electronic telecommunications," as well as "any infrastructure, network or service."

"Immediate threats"

Among the threats that constitute an "overriding emergency" mentioned in the text, are perceived immediate threats to areas such as public order, public health, the economy, internet operators, civil emergencies, or online electronic communications. 

Keeping data in the EU

Despite the media reports after its announcement, the decree does not force public authorities to only use servers in the EU, only when it concerns sensitive data, such as that relating to the census, registers of residents, tax information or health records.

Controlling online identification

The state will have greater control over public online identification by making the DNI identity card (which is issued by the state) the only valid document to do so. If public administrations want to set up their own electronic ID systems, they will first need the state's permission.

Social media

The authorities would not have the power to block social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, as these are private companies. Yet, in "exceptional circumstances," it could block the connection that these need to work.