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Spain and GitHub Are Blocking an App That Helped Protesters Organize

As thousands of people protest in Barcelona, an app meant to organize activists was blocked by Github on request of the government.

by Samantha Cole
Oct 30 2019, 5:24pm

Image via Getty Images

People are rioting in the streets of Barcelona. For the last month, hundreds of thousands of people have joined demonstrations in Spain to voice their objection to the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders and support Catalonian independence.

As with almost all modern activist and public protest movements, activists are using social media and apps to communicate with and organize public actions. But this week, in a move that puts the Spanish government on par with censorship-heavy places like China and Russia, the country requested that Github block access to one of those apps, by revoking local access to its Github repository. Github, which is owned by Microsoft, complied with the order.

According to Spanish news outlet El Confidencial, last week the government ordered takedowns of websites and app made by Tsunami Democrátic, an activist group organizing protests in the region. To try to keep access to the app download alive, Tsunami Democrátic moved the .apk file to Github. But the government shut that down, too, blocking the site in Spain.

Motherboard tested the download using a VPN, and the Github repo was blocked from Madrid. It's still accessible from the US. Currently, a version of Tsunami Democrátic’s website (but not its Github repo) is up.

Spain's takedown request was posted to a Github repository that publishes every content removal request Github receives from governments.

"As you may have seen in the international media, Spain is currently facing a series of riots involving serious public disorder and main infrastructure's sabotage," the email, sent from the Lawful Interception Unit of the Guardia Civil, one of the Spanish Law Enforcement Agencies, states. It continues:

"There is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the National High Court where the movement Tsunami Democratic has been confirmed as a criminal organization driving people to commit terrorist attacks. Tsunami Democratic's main goal is coordinating these riots and terrorist actions by using any possible means. Among them, they have developed an app that provides information about those riots and allows their users to communicate between themselves in order to coordinate those actions."

Github—which is owned by Microsoft—says it doesn't "endorse or adopt any assertion contained" in the repo for takedowns, but publishes them for transparency. "By posting the notices here, we can better inform the public about what content is being withheld from GitHub, and why," a description of the repo states. "We post takedown notices here to document their potential to chill speech."

Spain is the third and most recent entry into countries that have issued takedown notices of Github repositories, joining China and Russia. If Spanish protestors can use a VPN and access the Tsunami Democrátic website from a different virtual location, they may still be able to use the app. But the Spanish government's choice to censor the app is a disturbing sign that a protest movement in the country is taking a more dangerous turn for its democracy.

Tagged:
barcelona
Spain
Catalonian independence