The Ground War Over Catalonia Is Being Fought in Cyberspace

Updated on
  • Spain shuts websites, raids tech companies to stop vote
  • Deutsche Telekom T-Systems executive detained in September

Catalonia Vote Turns Violent as Spain Holds Firm

Cyberspace has become an active front in the Catalan rebellion for independence as the Spanish government pulls down websites, police detain hackers and software developers and haul them into court to testify, and even Wikileaks founder Julian Assange wades into the fray.

Among the highest-profile raids and arrests that have occurred since early September was the Sept. 20 police search of Fundacio puntCAT, the institution that manages the ".cat" internet domain, and arrested Pep Masoliver, an official at the foundation. The foundation is “devoted to ensuring that Catalan –- a persecuted and maltreated language -- has its space in the digital world,” according to a statement of protest posted on the foundation’s website.

The government is trying to stop the illegal Oct. 1 referendum and has used the raid to help shut down websites that provided details for voters on where and how to vote. In response, the rebels created several alternative websites, and police chased down the creators of those sites, too.

Among the sites raided was Catalonia’s Telecommunications and Technologies Center, which manages communications and computer systems for the local government. Police also raided the offices of T-Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG that provide computer services to the agency and detained one of its executives.

That Catalan superior court on Friday ordered Google to “eliminate from the Google Play service" an app created to help Catalans know where to vote. The court mentioned in its ruling that Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on Sept. 27 had mentioned the app on his Twitter account and published a link to its location on Google Play.

Spain’s done a lot more to try to stop the referendum called by the Catalan government: It’s taken control of the region’s finances and deployed scores of national police in the area.

Assange, who’s been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years, has even gotten into the act. He’s been tweeting support for the referendum in Catalonia, criticizing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and offering tips to on how to avoid digital censorship and controls.

One post offers a “DYI ballot” that Catalans can use to replace the 12.5 million ballots that Spanish police claim to have seized. “Every 2nd household and every business has a printer so Catalans are spreading the ballot image as a backup,” he tweeted.

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