You are not alone, Mr President!
On the occasion of the Day of Secure Internet and the fight against mass surveillance of our electronic communications, February 11th – The day we fight back (https://thedaywefightback.org) – SHARE Foundation – SHARE Defense is addressing an open letter to the President of the Republic of Serbia:
Dear President Nikolic,
Regarding your claims that your communications are being surveilled without authorisation, we want to let you know that we share your concern and remind that we as citizens also fear that our communications are being accessed without our knowledge or consent.
Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia guarantees the right to privacy of communication and ensures that electronic communications of every person are not arbitrarily intercepted without any oversight. Lack of transparency and compliance of mechanisms and procedures with the Constitution and international standards in the field of privacy protection, for all citizens of Serbia, may result in the loss of confidence in state institutions, therefore making it difficult to establish a stable democratic society.
Additionally, journalists, human rights activists and researchers are not able to perform their roles in society independently, impartially and adequately if their communications are subjected to unauthorized surveillance.
There is no control over surveillance
Democratic values assume the existence of effective civil control over the security services, such as Security Information Agency (BIA), Military Security Agency (VBA) and Military Information Agency (VOA), which have the ability and the legitimate right to monitor communications in cases where confidentiality of communication mechanisms can be deviated from under the Constitution (criminal proceedings and protection of security of the Republic of Serbia). Inadequate regulatory framework and inefficient means of control practically allow security agencies to intrude on citizens’ privacy without valid grounds.
The opinion of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the Ombudsman is that the realistic situation regarding the protection of privacy in Serbia greatly deviates from the standards set forth by the Constitution and relevant international documents. Also, the Constitutional Court of Serbia found in its last decision that some articles of the Law on the Security Information Agency are not in accordance with the Constitution. For example, Article 13 of the Law, which refers to the exceptions to the secrecy of letters and other means of communication, is not formulated with sufficient clarity and precision in the opinion of the Court, but will remain in effect for another four months, although it is unconstitutional.
In 2012 there had been over 270 000 requests for access to citizens’ retained data made to one operator of mobile and fixed telephony alone
Mass access to data about the communication itself, such as information about the participants of the communication (such as telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and so on), time and duration of the communication, as well as the location from which the communication takes place, represents a serious problem. It is important to note that this data has the same level of protection as the content itself as it is an integral part of the communication. By analyzing communication data of a particular individual, very sensitive information can be revealed, such as health, interpersonal relationships or patterns of movement. According to the report of the Commissioner for 2012, law enforcement authorities have established a 24-hour connection with the largest telecommunications operators, and accessed “retained data” more than 270 000 times by just one operator, which is a drastic violation of the right to privacy of the citizens of Serbia.
Software for mass surveillance in Serbia
The use of technology for mass surveillance of electronic communications is no longer a secret – there are indications that FinFisher/FinSpy software and tools sold by a company called “Trovicor” are used in Serbia, although there is no precise data of whether they are used by public authorities or private organizations. There is no clear legal framework nor control mechanisms for the use of these tools, and their misuse roughly violates the right to privacy, and thus threatens the foundations of a democratic society.
Privacy is a human right
The UN General Assembly recently unanimously adopted a Resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age, which is the first resolution after 25 years that relates to privacy. We invited the Government of the Republic of Serbia to support this document – our initiative brought together 33 civil society organizations, as well as journalists and media organizations. SHARE Foundation has also launched a campaign to promote the International principles on the implementation of human rights standards to communication surveillance. The Principles are already being supported by more than 300 organizations from around the world, and now individuals have the opportunity to sign the petition online and contribute to the fight against unauthorized and mass surveillance.
Sign the petition and assemble the National Security Council
In addition to the call to sign this online petition and support the principles against mass surveillance, we invite you to initiate mechanisms that will protect our violated human rights, in accordance with your authority. Having that in mind, we propose that you assemble the National Security Council on matters of surveillance and the interception of electronic communications, and on that occasion demand a forming of a special work group, which would consist of members of the Coordination Bureau, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the Ombudsman, which would prepare a report on the allegations in this letter and other available information, so that the Council could recommend the appropriate measures to the state bodies that would improve national security and guarantee the respect of human rights.
We are at your disposal for any further assistance.
SHARE Foundation – SHARE Defense