Everybody with your IP in the mouth (*)

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
15 November, 2016
Editorial: 48
Fecha de publicación original: 3 diciembre, 1996

Date of publication: 3/12/1996. Editorial 48.

 We have all the information, but not the truth (Chinese proverb, probably post-Mao)

Lewis Mumford said that human groups reach “maturity” when a body specialised in policing is formed. Wherever the function of policing had been traditionally performed by the group itself, there came a moment in which the organisational complexity and the consolidation of functions based on social class (and vice versa) confabulated to segregate the institution which, from then onwards, took charge of maintaining order. There is no need to scour our history to investigate in depth all the phenomena that arose from that moment on. But one thing that is of particular interest, however, is the disparity of ideas about what defines order that began to arise between those whose job it was to inject content into the idea of order and preserve it and those who should respect it or wanted to reformulate it. In many cases, the institution reached a state of autonomy with respect to order and the community itself, giving rise to notable historic processes whose consequences many people have suffered in their own flesh.

The Internet, as a human community is not alien to the principles described by Mumford. For more than twenty years the Net has controlled itself by the Netiquette set of norms or the particular consensus of individual virtual communities. That was until the Web arrived, that irresistible digital aphrodisiac, which made the population shoot up to heights unthinkable before 1993 and turned the net of nets into a would be global village with all the virtues and vices of any city that we have built since the beginning of time. Its ‘maturity’ has pushed the topic of order to the top of the agenda and, after this, the cyberpolice has appeared aided and abetted by the growing concern of our modern designers of law and order: the national states. In the US, where the first internaut community arose, they have already come up against the decent digital pen of Mr Clinton, the FBI, the ultra-discreet National Security Agency (housed in the White House though not figuring in the budget), the CIA and other security agencies. All of them share their concern for bringing an element of their order to bear to the disordered order of cyberspace. This phase of “maturity” on the Internet, in that country, has given rise, on the other hand, to numerous organisations which defend the rights of users and, above all, the right to self-organise as best they understand it, showing an irritating maturity in this if the irritation of those who are “unconnected” is anything to go by.

Europe, in general, and Spain, in particular, has managed to remain on the periphery of this process up to now. There has been a hiccough or two, generally as a result of some particular event, but little else. Despite this, the powers-that-be have continued to manifest their growing concern, on a number of occasions, that the virtual world is beyond their control. Well, now the party’s over. We should congratulate ourselves because we have reached maturity and entered into the modern digital world. The Spanish Guardia Civil have decided to create a “Virtual Police Precinct”, with its own web page, which will appear on the Net in January. At the same time, it will put into operation a group of specialists who will not only control the Net in all Spain’s official languages, but will also work in conjunction with police from other countries in order to detect and chase up “cybernetic crimes”. The announcement that these old duties will be performed in the new medium was announced in Barcelona last weekend, not far from where the III Congress of Catalan Journalists was being held, the main theme of which was digital journalism. Those are the kind of coincidences that tend to surprise Pedro Navaja.

The Spanish cyberpolice have a big advantage over their colleagues in other countries, by their own admission: Infovia. Telefonica wants the Net to be as safe as possible and is designing versions of its system in which the user is perfectly identified here, in Spain, and in Latin America, where they hope that Infovia will become the standard for navigating on the Net. The reason is obvious, but I’ll state it clearly in case there are some of you who are feeling a little dense at this time of day: without security there is no business, and without business there is no Net. Or at least that’s what they say.

I am not going to introduce any conspiracy theory at this stage of the game. Nor am I going to fall into that stupid trap of “Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear”. Neither I, nor we, have anything to hide; neither I, nor we, have anything to be afraid of. But I want to know (I don’t use the plural here for the the sake of plurality) what they are going to know. Because if they have nothing to fear from those of us who have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to hide from what we have nothing to fear: the information we want to offer in an open and transparent manner on the Net. I do not want to be surprised, nor find that somebody knows more than each person wants to offer. We are old hands at this story which usually begins with keeping an eye on organised crime and ends with all of us criminally organised by reason of the webs we visit. Above all, if we happen to have a different idea on law and order to that which the agents of law and order hold.

The only way of avoiding this nonsense is (1) to regulate with absolute clarity the environment in which the cyberpolice operate, (2) place it within a legal framework in whose definition and control internauts participate and (3) to develop the organisms in which the latter will exercise this right. And it is here where our maturity is lagging behind. We are enjoying lateral interaction to such an extent, so much part of the digital world, that we are leaving direct action for another day. Meanwhile, the servers are increasingly vulnerable to having their doors kicked in without the affected ones even being aware of it. If things go well, there is always time for a search warrant. If not, it will definitely be some hackers’ meddling. There is nothing and everything to make us evil-minded and expect the worst. At least, until there are organisations on the Net that take on the responsibility of watchdogs of cyber-rights, clearly defining the terrain within which the cyberpolice operate. Because not everything in the Net will be business, however hard passionate liberals, who watch desperately how loads of unpriced and uncontrolled bits float around, try to sell us this idea.


What follows is the complete speech which the Director General of the Spanish Guardia Civil, Santiago López Valdivieso, was to read in Barcelona on 29/11/96 at the inauguration of the Conference on Cybernetic Crime subtitled “The digital world and the Guardia Civil: the legal framework of Cyberspace”. For reasons beyond his control, he was not able to attend the opening meeting and another official from the Institution read it instead:

The Guardia Civil’s fundamental mission and the reason for its existence is the protection of citizens. To this end, it has evolved during its history in order to respond effectively to new demands for security made by citizens. Demands which have evolved together with social changes. Now we face a new challenge, the challenge of a digital world, and we wish to face it with the diligence that has always characterised the Guardia Civil. “We are experiencing at present a new revolution of spectacular consequences, whose magnitude is yet unknown. The era of communications taught us to work together. It showed us the multiplying effect which shared effort can have on human potential. Advances in information technology have meant this work can be carried out more efficiently. Now, global communication networks, the new digital society, offer us a new world of extraordinary opportunities.

Never before have so many people worked together simultaneously, living together in the global village, and to the same extent as one has faith in human nature so one should hope that this revolution will bring with it positive results. The discovery of the virtual world has meant a change in the lifestyle of citizens. They communicate, spend their free time and, without doubt, live in it. It is our task to ensure that they move around with the same security and guarantees as in the real world. ” We face, therefore, new opportunities but at the same times new risks. New types of crimes are making their appearance and the existing ones have found new territory to expand in. The new Spanish Penal Code already has a section devoted to digital crime specifically: violation of e-mail, the use of private personal data, dishonest advertising, electronic fraud, using and disposing of ways of breaking into software, revealing secrets, falsification of documents, child pornography…..Without security, freedom does not exist. The free exercising of citizens rights demands a secure framework for its application. We must guarantee the privacy of our communications, the integrity of our information, and the use of the Net in freedom.

Suitable legal regulations are not enough. The forces of security also need the capacity to guarantee that this new legislation is respected. We are witnessing the birth of a new society which needs a normative framework to assure its survival. This need has sparked off self-regulation, codes of behaviour which cybernauts have imposed on themselves. On the edges of self-regulation, governments, those organisations and institutions involved, the security forces, need to work out the framework of security that society demands.

We are all aware of the importance of what we are talking about. We have a great task ahead of us. The Guardia Civil is prepared to fulfil it. In our institution there is already a group of people specialised in the Internet. By the beginning of next year we hope to be able to offer our new services to citizens through the Net. We are working hard to be able to accompany you all in the discovery of this new world.


(*) Under Franco’s dictatorship there was a popular saying: “Come out with your identity cards in your mouths”. It was the warning phrase used by the police during their “dissuasive” actions against groups whose intentions were obviously sinister and subversive, whether they were in cine-forums or anti-Franco propaganda cells. The writer of this article owes the headline of this en.red.ando editorial to Jordi Vendrell, who gave it to me while he was eating an exqusite dish of calamari a la romana during a break in the III Congress of Catalan Journalists.