Third overview of digital rights and freedoms in Serbia in 2018: a blow to anonymity


In the latest period of monitoring digital rights and freedoms in Serbia between July and October 2018, SHARE Foundation registered 16 cases of violations of digital rights and freedoms.

In this period of time, the most noticeable cases were those of the de-anonymization of Twitter users, which attracted a great attention of the Internet community. Considering the importance of anonymity for the freedom of expression, especially when there are pressures regarding criticism directed at activities of authorities and public officials, revealing identities on social networks can have serious consequences when it comes to the privacy of citizens, too. On Twitter, there was a published photo of user “Operativac iz Zemuna”, identical to the biometric photograph on an ID in the registry of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and this occurred on an anonymous account which mostly tweets about the support to the ruling coalition. Regarding this case, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection initiated a procedure of surveillance at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

A particularly worrisome case refers to public search of the data about Twitter user “Baz Kilington” which also offered an award, published on the Instagram account of a controversial movement for animal protection “Levijatan”, stating that he was a “poisoner and provocateur”. According to daily newspaper “Blic”, when it comes to this case, the Prosecution Office requested collection of necessary information from a competent police department. Also, the manager of Foundation “Pokret Levijatan”, Pavle Bihali, on his personal Twitter account published the information on the creation of ‘database’ with information on ‘fake accounts’ on Twitter. Since personal data can be processed only under conditions clearly defined by law, it seems that such database, if it truly exists, represents a serious violation of the right to the protection of personal data and can bring legal liability.

There was another case of an unacceptable treatment of personal data o citizens, discussed in the previous report, too, but this time the matter is regarding a private company. As determined by the service of the Commissioner, data on more than 2000 citizens who applied for a TV quiz ‘Golden circle’ were publicly available on the website of the company “Met Ro Productions”, which conducted the quiz. Names and surnames, unique personal identification numbers, addresses, phone numbers, emails and occupations were only some of the information on about 2300 citizens publicly available, whereas for a few more thousands of citizens there were names and surnames published. Due to this, the Commissioner submitted a request for initiation of a criminal procedure against a liable person at the “Met Ro Productions” before the Magistrates Court in Belgrade.

At its session held on 24 September, the Government of Serbia adopted a Bill of the new Law on Personal Data Protection, in spite of numerous criticisms coming from the Commissioner, experts, and the very European Commission, too. Despite shortcomings, it is important to say that the creation of the new law was led by the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU (GDPR), and that since the very beginning of the application of the new legislative framework it must be insisted that it is applied consistently, because the lack of liability for mishaps in the processing of citizens’ data occurs almost regularly.

When social tensions regarding a possible solution for the Kosovo situation intensified, a representative of the Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska napredna stranka-SNS) at the Assembly of the City of Belgrade, Slaviša Mićanović, insulted the prior of monastery Visoki Dečani – Sava Janjić on Twitter. There were numerous other insults posted on Twitter by anonymous users, who can be assumed to be affiliated with SNS, followed after the first insult. Janjić is known as an active Twitter user, and he previously disagreed with statements made by high state officials regarding a possible solution for Kosovo. The second case which attracted a great attention of the public referred to misogynous statements posted by the president of the union “Sloga”, Željko Veselinović, on his Facebook account, and which were directed at the Prime Minister of Serbia – Ana Brnabić, after which he apologized and deleted the post.

Another case of problematic expressions on Twitter was an insulting tweet by a member of the Parliament, a representative of Serbian Radical Party, and the vice-president of the Parliament, Vjerica Radeta about passing of the president of association ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, Hatidža Mehmetović, which she later on deleted. After this case, at the Parliament there was an initiative for her dismissal as the vice-president of the Parliament supported by 60 MPs. In the previous monitoring report on the state of digital rights, Radeta threatened on Twitter to the activist of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), Sofija Todorović, during the festival “Miredita – dobar dan”, where YIHR was one of the organizers. The position of officials in the society is such that they must be aware of them having a higher level of responsibility when speaking publicly, and that they must put up with more criticism by the public, however this does not mean that they are ‘easy targets’ for insults, threats and discrimination.

Monitoring base of SHARE Foundation