The spying targeted selected individuals and was not “massive” as alleged, according to the unnamed sources cited by the paper.
Canada’s Citizen Lab group said Monday at least 65 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of Pegasus spyware after a failed independence bid in 2017.
Elected officials, including current and former Catalan regional leaders, were among those targeted by the controversial spyware made by Israel’s NSO group.
Pegasus infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.
Citizen Lab, which focuses on high-tech human rights abuses, said it could not directly attribute the spying operations, but that circumstantial evidence pointed to Spanish authorities.
But the intelligence service sources cited by El País said the number of Catalan separatists who were spied on was “much lower” than Citizen Lab’s figure, and the CNI “always acted under the control of the courts”.
Contacted by AFP, the CNI was not immediately available for comment.
Spain’s central government on Sunday said it would launch inquiries. The government has not denied nor confirmed whether it uses Pegasus or similar spyware, saying only that any surveillance is carried out under the supervision of judges.
Catalonia’s regional leader Pere Aragones has said the region will halt political collaboration with the Spanish government until Madrid clarifies its role.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s minority socialist coalition relies on Catalan and Basque separatist parties to pass legislation.
Catalonia in northeast Spain has been for several years at the centre of a political crisis between separatists, who control the executive and the regional parliament, and the central government in Madrid.
Tensions had eased since dialogue began between Sánchez’s government and the regional authorities in 2020 and the granting of pardons to nine pro-independence leaders last year.