Spain’s government has divided opinion over a new strategy to tackle the spread of online disinformation.
The procedure was approved last month and it details how a commission comprising Spain’s intelligence service (CNI), the foreign ministry and defence ministry should combat the issue.
Madrid has stated that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by an “unprecedented infodemic”.
But media organisations and opposition political parties have accused the authorities of wanting to establish a “Ministry of Truth” and of violating freedom of expression.
The new measures have been implemented in Spain as part of a wider push by the European Union to combat false rumours which are intentionally spread.
The plan uses the European Commission’s definition of disinformation, which is “verifiably false or misleading, which is created, presented and disseminated for profit or with the deliberate intention of misleading the public”.
The EU has previously accused China and Russia of being responsible for false information campaigns aimed at undermining the continent’s democracies.
‘Risk the government will act as a censor’
Authorities in Spain will now monitor the internet for disinformation campaigns and investigate their origin, and implement a “policy response” if necessary.
This response may, for example, take the form of a diplomatic warning if there is evidence that a foreign state is behind a disinformation campaign.
Spain says the measures will apply to electoral processes, but also sectors such as health, environment or security.
The protocols are an update on measures which have been in place in the country since March 2019.
The Madrid Press Association (APM) have accepted the government’s wish to combat disinformation, but have expressed concerned about a “clear risk” that the government will act “as a censor rather than a guarantor of the truth”.
“We seriously object to the tools announced for that fight because it leaves in the hands of the National Government a function that should enjoy independence from the public powers,” said the APM in a statement.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have also questioned the power of the retaliatory measures given to Spain’s government and has called for more clarity.
“RSF asks the Government to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and to publish data on the disinformation campaigns that it has detected against Spain”.
‘An Orwellian Ministry of Truth’
Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition Partido Popular accused Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of creating “an Orwellian Ministry of Truth”, in reference to George Orwell’s famous ‘1984’ work on a totalitarian state.
Spain’s new Minister of Justice, Juan Carlos Campo, assured Parliament on Tuesday that the government’s plan was aimed at “combating disinformation campaigns … from abroad” and not at “censoring” information.
“It is not to say what is true or what is not, to close web pages, withdraw broadcasting licences or put journalists in prison,” Campo said during a debate in the Senate.
A number of analysts have also said the reaction of the media and opposition parties to the measures was “disproportionate”.
Like other European states, Spain is struggling to contain the flow of false information on social media, especially during its recent electoral processes.
During the campaign for the April 2019 legislative elections, nearly 9.6 million voters – a quarter of the total – received messages containing false information via WhatsApp, according to a study by the NGO Avaaz.
One rumour falsely claimed that Pedro Sanchez had agreed to support the independence of Catalonia.
Man jailed for WhatsApp threats to kill Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez
A man has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for threatening to kill Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Manuel Murillo Sanchez was found guilty by Spain’s National Court of preparing to commit assassination and illegal weapons offences.
The 65-year-old former security guard from Tarrasa was arrested in 2018 after making deaths threats in a WhatsApp group.
The court heard how Murillo Sanchez had offered to act as a “sniper” and “hunt down” the Spanish PM “like a deer”.
The suspect’s comments came after the Spanish government had ordered for the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco to be exhumed.
The court rejected his defence that he had been intoxicated when sending the WhatsApp messages and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison for attempted murder.
He was also given a five-year sentence for possessing illegal weapons and banned from owning any firearms for eight years. The verdict is subject to appeal.
The remains of Franco were removed to a cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid in October 2019, prompting anger from far-right groups in Spain.
In a WhatsApp group, Murillo Sanchez had allegedly told fellow users that he was a “sniper with a precise shot” who could target Prime Minister Sanchez.
“We cannot allow them to humiliate Generalissimo Francisco Franco … If necessary, I will go armed and sit on Franco’s tomb, and if they come close, I will shoot”, he reportedly wrote.
The court said the man’s “determination” and the number of weapons seized from him shows “a high level of danger” even if he had not made any specific plans to kill the Spanish PM.
The suspect had repeatedly expressed “his intention to finish off the president of the government” to “bring about a change in the Spanish political situation”, a court statement read.
Barcelona seeks to ban smoking on all beaches, after positive pilot scheme
Barcelona City Council is seeking to ban smoking on all of the city’s 10 beaches from this July, following a successful pilot scheme that was carried out on four beaches last summer.
‘The measure aims to facilitate healthier places to live together, with less waste and respect for the environment,’ the council said.
It said that there was a ‘good reception’ to the pilot test of smokeless beaches carried out last year, and which was assessed positively by the public with a score of 8.2 points out of 10. It also resulted in ‘a significant reduction of highly polluting cigarette butts abandoned in the sand’, the council added, resulting in the authorities pushing for an extension of the ban on all 10 beaches of Barcelona’s coastline for this summer.
The council said on Friday that it would be launching a campaign this month to inform residents of the new measure, as well as spreading awareness of its benefits. When the restriction comes into effect in July, it will be monitored by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB).
Last summer smoking was prohibited on four of the ten beaches in Barcelona (Sant Miquel, Somorrostro, Nova Icària and Nova Mar Bella) from 29 May until 12 September. The regulations last year did not allow Barcelona City Council to actually apply sanctions, but bathers could be told to stop smoking by police officers, and if they then refused to do so, they could have faced fines for disobedience.
According to reports, only 2.6% of beach-goers defied the ban at the four beaches last summer, whilst 19% of those at the city’s other six beaches smoked.
The campaign last year highlighted that 13.8% of deaths annually in Barcelona are attributed to tobacco consumption – some 2,200 people. The campaign also focused on the danger of second-hand smoke, considered particularly harmful for children. A study last year revealed that more than 135,000 cases of respiratory diseases and over 3,000 hospitalisations in children aged under 12 in Spain are attributed to passive smoking.
According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking, approximately five billion cigarette butts end up in the sea each year. Discarded cigarettes contain substances such as cadmium, iron, arsenic, nickel, copper, zinc, or manganese – some of which are toxic to both human and marine life.
Body of US software mogul John McAfee still in Barcelona morgue, seven months after his death
The body of American anti-virus developer John McAfee remains in a morgue in the Barcelona City of Justice complex, in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, seven months after his death. It is currently located in the Legal Medicine Institute (Imelec), a grey building with honeycomb windows, while a judge has been preparing a report on his death.
That report, released this week, has determined that the software mogul died by suicide in his prison cell in Barcelona province on June 23, 2021 as he awaited extradition to the United States on charges of failing to file US tax returns from 2014 to 2018.
The 75-year-old’s family had raised questions about the circumstances of his death, even though an autopsy concluded that McAfee hung himself inside his cell at Brians 2 penitentiary in Sant Esteve Sesrovires. Prison workers found a suicide note in the pocket of his pants.
The months-long investigation is not quite over yet, as lawyers for McAfee’s family have appealed the Spanish judge’s decision to provisionally close the case. The provincial court of Barcelona must now decide whether to confirm the judge’s decision or order him to keep the investigation open. The family has argued that the autopsy was incomplete and lacked the “basic elements” to draw definitive conclusions about the cause of death, according to defense sources.
The building in Martorell (Barcelona) that houses the court that’s been investigating the case has so many structural deficiencies that in 2019, Spain’s legal watchdog, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), ordered two courtrooms closed because of safety hazards. The legal staff in this building is also dealing with a severe backlog of work, which partially explains the delay in concluding the McAfee investigation.
The cybersecurity entrepreneur’s family was very critical of the process from the beginning. His ex-wife, Janice McAfee, traveled to Barcelona and met with three prison officials at Brians 2, but she remained unconvinced by their explanations and questioned the suicide hypothesis. “The last thing he told me was ‘I love you and I’ll call you this evening. Those are not the words of someone who is suicidal’,” she said at the time.
But medical experts who examined the body always believed it was a clear case of suicide. McAfee was found hanging from his cell, where he had asked to spend time. He was in pre-trial detention after being charged with tax evasion by the United States. He had been in prison for more than eight months while Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, considered the extradition request for failing to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018. On Wednesday morning, McAfee’s lawyers told him that the court had decided to approve his extradition to the US and in the afternoon he killed himself, according to the investigation.
McAfee was the creator of one of the most popular antivirus software programs on the market and was considered a genius in the tech world. His life, however, was plagued by controversy. In 2012, McAfee was named a person of interest by authorities in Belize investigating the murder of his neighbor, but he never faced trial because he fled before he could be questioned. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, McAfee was in Spain’s Catalonia region, where he spent most of the lockdown. Authorities believe he lived in a semi-abandoned hotel in Cambrils called Daurada Park Hotel. Two years earlier, during an administrative inspection, the Catalan police had discovered a cryptocurrency operation in the basement of the hotel.
In July 2021 Spain’s National Police were notified by Interpol about the charges for tax evasion and arrested him on October 3 at Barcelona’s El Prat airport as he was about to fly to Istanbul. The court’s extradition decision, however, could have been appealed, and McAfee’s defense was already working on this process.
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