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Even though the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia and the Law on Personal Data Protection (LPDP), the Criminal Code, Law on Organization and Operation of State Administrative Bodies and other laws recognize and protect the rights of privacy, data protection and secrecy of communications, the implementation of these protections has met with major difficulties during 2008.
A small number of Macedonian NGOs cover the issue of privacy, and during 2008 their main concerns involved the protection of human rights of children on the Internet-including the privacy of children-and the protection of privacy by the police and law enforcement agencies.
In July 2008, the Parliament ratified the Additional Protocol of the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data regarding supervisory authorities and trans-border data flow. This document was signed on 4 January 2008. In July 2008, the Parliament also enacted the Law that amends the LPDP and increased the fines for spamming. Both pieces of legislation (the Additional Protocol and the amendments) came into force on August 19, 2008.
The main amendments and modifications were made for the harmonization with the EU acquis and CoE Convention, adding specific provisions regarding video surveillance, the independence of the Directorate for Personal Data Protection and the simplification of the notification and complaint handling procedures.
For the period of 2007-2008, the Directorate gave priority to public awareness on the right of personal data protection. In cooperation with the EDRI-member Metamorphosis Foundation it implemented the Norwegian model on raising public awareness for youngsters, through creation of educational content and conducting public events in three secondary schools.
During 2008, Metamorphosis Foundation implemented the Children's Rights on the Internet - Safe and Protected (CRISP) project, co-funded by the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and Metamorphosis. It included establishment of a network of 12 NGOs working on the promotion and safeguarding of children's rights online in cooperation with the Directorate for Personal Data Protection. Project activities included developing a curriculum and educational resources in Macedonian and Albanian, available both offline and online, and conducting trainings. The trainings covered 50 primary and 20 secondary schools with participation of 8,482 children, 1,138 parents and 1,170 teachers from 12 cities and 7 villages from all parts of Macedonia.
Even though wiretapping is regulated and unauthorized wiretapping is prohibited, the wiretapping cases initiated in the past have not reached closure in court. The most notable example is the process against the state initiated by 17 journalists who have been subject to surveillance in the "Big Ear" affair of 2001. Over seven years, four different judges have unsuccessfully presided over this trial, and it was finally resolved at a retrial in June 2007. The state was found guilty, but the 17 plaintiffs stated that they remain dissatisfied with the compensation and the whole process. Their representatives stated that they won't discontinue the trial already underway at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, based on their complaint. In September 2008, the Appellate court confirmed the verdict of the basic court, but lowered the damages from the initial 6.000 Euros to approximately 4.000 Euros per journalist. The journalists have stated that "they are not satisfied with the compensation, and the precedent sets a signal that the violation of human rights is cheap in Macedonia."
After the Parliamentary elections of June 2008, the Government and the Parliament used an unjustified fast-track procedure, to adopt changes and amendments to over 164 laws in July and 17 laws in the following month without any public debate. These changes included amendments of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Communication Interception that widened the powers of surveillance for the law enforcement agencies.
Prominent NGOs such as Foundation Open Society Institute - Macedonia, Association for Criminal Justice and Criminology of Macedonia and Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia condemned the legalization of preventive surveillance and removal of need to justify special investigative measures with evidence of reasonable doubt before the judiciary. The NGOs warned that these changes can turn Macedonia from a state based on a rule of law into a "police state unconcerned with respect of basic human rights and freedoms."
In practice, even the older, stricter legislation was not enforced. The Parliamentary Committee for the supervision of the application of communication interception techniques by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense was denied access to data and did not issue any reports during 2008.
Metamorphosis Foundation also provided opportunities for raising awareness of opinion and decision makers, for instance, by including data protection sessions within the 2008 agenda of the Fourth International Conference e-Society.mk focused on ICT in Education.
In order to raise the public awareness also, Metamorphosis also formed an ad-hoc coalition of NGOs and other institutions to celebrate the Freedom Not Fear Day in Macedonia. FNF coincided with the public holiday of 11 October - the Day of uprising against fascism in World War II, and involved organizing public debate at the faculty of law and distribution of information on video surveillance on university campuses and the centre of Skopje, including an infostand and public survey. Several thousands of people were reached by these activities, and most citizens expressed concerns about various ways of "spying" conducted by the Government, corporations and individuals which threaten their privacy.
During 2008, legal experts and human rights activists raised concerns about the extensive use of detention and violation of privacy and the presumption of innocence. The Macedonian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights Project continuously condemned spectacular arrests by the police, which included inviting the media to film the handcuffed suspects escorted by law enforcement officers. Only one TV station with license for national coverage, TV Telma, adopted a policy to no longer broadcast such arrests and police-escorted transports.
Reacting changes in the legislation the Helsinki Committee also organized public debate on the reasonable expectations in regard to privacy protection versus efficiency in the fight against crime and corruption in a state of laws on 25 November 2005. However, state representatives failed to appear at the debate and provide arguments that would alleviate the concerns raised by the representatives of the civil and academic sector.
International Conference e-Society.mk
Macedonia: Public outcry over new legislation for preventive surveillance
Freedom Not Fear in Macedonia (10-11.10.2008)
Debate on Privacy in Macedonia (26.08.2008)
Appellate court confirms: The Big Ear Journalists were
wiretapped (only in Macedonian, 2.09.2008)
Decree for enacting the Law for changing and amending the Law on Personal
Data Protection (only in Macedonian, 19.08.2008)
Fees ranging from 500 to 2000 Euros for unwanted spam-messages (only in
Debate on Privacy in Macedonia, Metamorphosis Foundation (29.09.2008)
Directorate of Data Protection in Macedonia - Legal grounds for the
protection of personal data in the national legislation
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia
Human Rights Support Project
(contribution by EDRi-member Metamorphosis Foundation - Macedonia)