Should social media be completely free? Or in ‘special’ situations, must they be controlled by a higher entity such as the government of a country? If you ask yourself the question thinking about the State of Spain, you already have an answer, because the Spanish government seeks to intervene in applications such as WhatsApp or Telegram if the occasion requires it.
In a current state like the one we live in, subject to what the Coronavirus Pandemic brings every day, we must act not only with what happens, but also prepare for what could happen. The Government wants to have the ability to control what may happen on the streets, and also in other areas such as online, since apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram can be used to coordinate actions and transmit official public notice messages from the State.
For this reason, the preliminary draft of the new General Telecommunications Law contemplates a measure that will certainly not be exempt from controversy if it is approved: The Spanish State may “assume direct management or intervene in the electronic communications networks and services on an exceptional basis and transitory if there is a risk to public order, public safety or national security “.
In other words: the Spanish government will be able to intervene and control apps like WhatsApp or Telegram to, for example, send messages in emergency situations. A scenario in which the providers of interpersonal communications services will have the obligation to transmit public alerts in the event of “major catastrophes or imminent or ongoing emergencies”.
Exceptional and transitory nature
Article 4.6 of the draft of the new law makes it clear, noting that it is a power that the government reserves for situations “of an exceptional and transitory nature.” The law is available here for public consultation from September 11 to October 13. The question, in this case, is clear: What do we call an “exceptional situation”? Where does the transitory end?
What if Facebook -owner of WhatsApp and Messenger- or Telegram refused to send messages or cede control to the government? Well, in the event of non-compliance with these “public service obligations”, the Government may agree that the General State Administration assumes direct management, intervenes the services of these apps or even their management.
All this always on an exceptional and transitory basis, according to the preliminary draft, which according to Bussiness Insider seeks “de facto validity” of the ‘Digital Decree’ presented in 2019 and approved in the Congress of Deputies, a decree that allows the government to to be able to intervene in communications network services in the event of “public order, public safety and national security” being compromised.
A preliminary draft is “a project proposal where the fundamental lines that are intended to be developed later in the project are drawn or outlined”, so it is subject to discussion, changes and eliminations before seeking approval. The measure to control messaging apps in “exceptional” situations may not be finally approved. Or maybe yes, but of course allowing a government to intervene in an application with billions of users and in theory private, raises too many questions.