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Romania: Is really privacy a topic in the public debate?

28 January, 2009

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

Privacy is a sporadic keyword in the Romanian mass-media. And even less used in public speech. Becoming an ideal motivation only when talking about some local stars' private life and their juicy intricacies, the real debate on the most important issues lacks completely. The Human Rights Committees in the Parliament seem unfamiliar with the topic and the Data Protection Authority prefers to keep its quiet status. What to discuss anyway?

A law on the Police DNA database was approved by the Parliament in 2008. The subject did not seem to be appealing for any public debate and the Chamber of Deputies Human Rights Committee did not see even a minor problem with that version, so they adopted it unanimously with no amendments. No reference or report from the data protection authority was considered useful, but a "simple reference" to law 677/2001 was indicated. The deletion of the stored data is possible only by decision of the court or prosecutors that are investigating the case. Therefore, if they forget about that, you need to start your own case on this. The law foresees a number of 30 crimes for which collecting DNA is possible.

The April Eurobarometer that investigated perceptions on data protection among EU citizens shows that 79% of the Romanians have no idea that there is a law in the field of personal data. I might add to that: if the other 21% were asked to name it, probably at least 19% would have found that they were wrong.

The same study reveals that Romania is number one in EU countries with the percentage of the people (47%) not knowing that there are laws allowing you to have access to your personal data kept by others. Not surprising with a Data Protection Authority which is understaffed and has insignificant powers or will to be an active voice in the public sphere.

But let's be more positive. How can you not be happy when you might find, after you finish your master courses at the prestigious Academy of Economic Sciences (ASE) in Bucharest, that you have an account at a Romanian Bank without signing any act or being informed about it. Isn't it funny to get a bank statement home from a bank account you had no idea about? The bad part is that there is no money in it, only the traditional bank commission. The Representative of ASE must be right: the students are to blame, because they did not check the ASE web page.

And let's be smart. We may find already a few websites presenting now real databases of Personal Numerical Code (CNP) or just simulated CNP that seem real. CNP is a piece of 13-figure data on everyone's ID, which should be the "master identifier". One of the reason of these databases is that some telecom operators are asking for the CNP data to activate some extra-options on the pre-paid cards. Should we care?

The Romanian Government decided to start issuing biometric passports starting with 1 January 2009, after postponing it a couple of times. Although most of the public comments against the law involved arguments related with the "corporate conspiracy", "devil's hand" or "666 dangerous number", a court case has been initiated by a lawyer in order to stop its application on privacy grounds. It remains to be seen what the judge will decide.

The data retention law was approved by the Parliament, even though all the major key-actors involved in the discussion have agreed that it is useless and it will not work. But they have supported it, because Romania can't make a stand in front of the EU. Not yet, at least. Funny enough, the law includes the first crime related to the misuse of personal data (the intentional access to the data without a proper authorization is a crime punished with prison from 6 months to 2 years.)

Even funnier, after the draft law has received almost no comments and little interest from the media and general public, the day it entered into force someone discovered it in the Official Journal and a public outcry started with tons of newspaper articles on the new law, stating that the law "will keep all the content of communications, including phone calls, SMSs and emails."

Politicians started to appear on TV claiming privacy breach, when only 3 months before they raised their hands to support the same law. Another brave action - an online petition - gathered a lot of signatures claiming that the Romanian Government will create an "archive of all emails sent by Romanians." All this when the new law says - in black and white - that the content is not kept. But saying that, you are already a protector of the government intrusion into the private life.

So, I am wrong - privacy is in the public debate. With the totally wrong subject and no legal arguments, but it is somewhere there. Shouldn't we be happy?

EDRi-gram: Romanian Govt adopts Data retention law, but calls it inefficient (27.02.2008)

EDRi-gram: Eurobarometers on data protection in EU (23.04.2008)

Over 300 master students from ASE accuse the institution of opening bank accounts without their knowledge (only in Romanian, 24.04.2008)

Law 76/2008 - Police DNA Database (only in Romanian)

Some things about biometric passports (only in Romanian, 27.01.2009)

(contribution by Bogdan Manolea, EDRi-member APTI - Romania)



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