The cops smiled a lot at first. The six plainclothes officers from Spain’s civil guard arrived in the morning at the Barcelona offices of Fundació PuntCat, the Internet registry that manages the .cat extension, popular in Spain’s Catalonia region. Employees were politely told to unlock their computers and step away. A search warrant would arrive soon. The mood darkened when a squad of riot police turned up, and executives learned that the police that morning had gone to the home of Josep “Pep” Masoliver, the group’s chief technology officer, and arrested him on charges that included perversion of justice. This was September 20, fewer than two weeks before voters in Catalonia were scheduled to decide whether the region should declare independence from Spain. Responding to the country’s worst political crisis in a generation, the Spanish government declared Catalonia’s referendum on self-determination illegal. Many elsewhere in Spain considered the vote treason.
As Catalan voters prepare for Thursday’s snap election to replace the regional government removed by Spain’s government for declaring independence, it remains to be seen whether Spain will continue its heavy-handed approach to the Web. Many privacy and online-rights advocates say Spain’s actions in Catalonia are unprecedented for a Western democracy.
The raids at PuntCat and Masoliver’s home came days after a Spanish court made several demands of the registry, including taking down a website that provided referendum materials and turning over information on the domain’s owner.
Another order stunned PuntCat’s leadership, registry lawyer Nacho Amadoz tells The Parallax. According to Amadoz, PuntCat was instructed to take offline all .cat websites that “may involve or point to any hosting of contents” related to Catalonia independence.