Spain: Illegal database held by local police in Sada (Galicia)

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On 14 August 2008, it surfaced that the local police in Sada (A Corunha) has been holding an illegal archive that includes personal data and photographs of people identified during night-time patrols, taken with a Polaroid and with a white wall in the background, as well as the personal details of some minors. There are hand-written notes in the files and what appear to be sub-classifications in the lists, which have been deduced by the fact that the identification cards are marked in three different colours, two of them in different tones of green and the third in orange, raising suspicion that this division may relate to political affiliation (the police have photographs of assemblies and demonstrations), or to whether the identified people have precedents, in terms of incidents involving the police or charges brought against them. Sada local council has opened disciplinary proceedings against the local police chief inspector Xosé Pedreira Iglesias and the head of the Unidade de Seguridade Cidadán (USC), Xoán Carlos Arias Rodríguez, whose department was responsible for night-time patrols and held the illegal files, after the two officers accused the council of fabricating evidence against them.

The scandal emerged on 14 August, when a councillor, a local police officer and a sergeant of the Guardia Civil entered the office of the USC, discovering the archive containing the photographs and personal details of people identified during night patrols. The office where the files were held was locked, and even the council officials responsible for the local police had no access to it, as the officers who had the keys were off-duty. The Guardia Civil sergeant recognised the situation as "irregular", and the mayor announced an investigation into the matter, entrusting custody of the files to the local police, while the prosecutor's office decided whether to intervene and if the archives would be confiscated, or whether enquiries would be of a purely administrative nature.

Mayor Abel López Soto offered the council's co-operation with the prosecutor's office, and issued a statement that notes that: "The heads of the local police never informed this mayor's office... of the existence of files or databases [containing] personal data in municipal offices", in spite of the mayor's office being in charge of municipal staff including the local police; and that Sada council did not know about these databases, resulting in them not having been subject "to prior registration required by Organic Law 15/1999... for the protection of personal data". The mayor also stresses that the irregularities conducted may result in the council incurring a fine of between €60,000 and €300,000, as it is considered a "serious offence" by Organic Law 15/999, resulting in an administrative-informative case being opened to ascertain responsibilities. He demanded that Pedreira Iglesias and Arias Rodríguez submit an urgent report to explain if they knew about these files and archives, and whether they had informed the municipal council of their existence, attaching a copy of the notification if this was the case. The mayor also claimed that he "will not tolerate strange behaviour outside of the law in any municipal department and by any person". In the background of the dispute there is a dispute over pay between the local council and local police officers, with 14 of the 21 available officers reportedly on sick leave, resulting in the Guardia Civil helping the local council to cover for them.

Relations between the socialist - nationalist coalition (between the PSdeG, Galician branch of the PSOE, and the Bloque Nacionalista Galego, BNG) that came into power in Sada in June 2007 and the chief inspector and night patrol officers have been frayed, as a result of long-term lack of trust resulting from the latter's strong links to the previous mayor, Ramón Rodríguez Ares, who had been in power in Sada since the first elections in 1979 (with an eight-month interlude in 2003). The then opposition accused him of creating a sort of personal guard within the local police, and of making the town a sort of "police paradise", with 21 officers for 13,600 inhabitants (one for every 600 people). There was talk of the officers acting beyond their functions and of "expedited" methods used by some officers, although there were no formal complaints filed. Arias Rodríguez also reportedly went on sick leave during Abel López's brief stint as mayor in 2003.

On 18 August, the prosecutor's office continued to treat the matter as purely administrative, although a criminal investigation may follow if Sada council finds evidence of criminal offences. A statement by the Movemento polos direitos civís (MPDC, Movement for civil rights) complained about the prosecutor's office not opening a criminal investigation ex officio in such an important case, stating that if no measures are taken over the next few days, it may file a formal lawsuit in order to push for the opening of a judicial investigation. The MPDC also argued that this incident shows the prosecutor's office dependence on "security bodies and forces" (expression used in Spain to refer to the different police and security forces), as the latter provide prosecutors with the material they use in trials, and demonstrates the need for an "independent body to investigate police conduct", after earlier incidents involving possible police misconduct in which prosecution services failed to bring charges.

La Voz de Galicia, 16.8.2008; Vieiros, 16.8, 18-19.8.2008, Movemento polos direitos civís, "O MPDC valora presentarse como acusacion particular contra os policias de Sada", , Esculca, 

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