Warning: Using encrypted email in Spain? Do not pass go, go directly to jail
Civil lib group cries foul after judge detains terror suspects
Seven people have been detained for, among other allegations, using encrypted email, a civil-rights group has said.
Spanish cops investigating bomb attacks raided 14 homes and businesses across the country last month and arrested 11 people: seven women and four men, aged 31 to 36, from Spain, Italy, Uruguay, and Austria.
Since then, four people have been released, and the remaining seven were charged with belonging to a "criminal organization of an anarchist nature with terrorist ends."
That organization has been linked to explosives placed at cash machines, and in the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid and the Pilar Basilica in Zaragoza last year, according to Spanish journalists.
Lawyers defending the accused said investigating Judge Javier Gómez Bermúdez partly chose to further detain the seven due to their use of “emails with extreme security measures” – specifically, freedom-fighting RiseUp.net’s email servers.
Civil liberties group Access said this decision is tantamount to criminalizing encrypted communications.
“The suggestion that somehow protecting one’s privacy is akin to a terrorist act is a new low,” said Josh Levy, advocacy director at Access. “Using it as an indicator of criminality is disingenuous at best, and at worst an attack on anyone who depends on digital security to operate safely.”
RiseUp.net is a Seattle-based, volunteer-run service that provides web hosting, mailing lists, email accounts, among other things. Unlike some email providers, it does not log users’ connecting IP addresses, and all mail is stored in encrypted form. On its website it also vows to “actively fight any attempt to subpoena or otherwise acquire any user information or logs.”
Access says the investigative judge's move to “criminalise people for using privacy tools” could have wide-reaching consequences since all email providers have “an obligation to protect the privacy of its users.” Many of the “extreme security measures” used by RiseUp are best-practices for online security that everyone should follow.
"Encryption is a vital technology for all people to maintain their privacy and security,” said Jamie Tomasello, tech director at Access. “We cannot allow Spain to criminalize the use of basic digital security practices that are relied upon every day by users and corporations alike."
Meanwhile, in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron has said governments must be able to easily read citizens' email, post, electronic messages and other communications to keep people safe – implying he will strip or backdoor encryption in software if reelected. ®