(This content is a translation of the original article in Macedonian, published on the 7th of December 2022)
The video surveillance systems and the processing of biometric data have an enormous inherent risk of violating privacy, which is one of the human rights, and intrusion of the security services and the authorities in the private lives. That was the topic of the panel discussion “Privacy Matters: Surveillance and Biometric Data Processing”, which was the opening session of the second day (7th of December 2022) of the 18th international conference e-Society.mk. This year’s conference was titled “Cyber Resilience for Freedom and Security” and it was organized, just as the previous 17 editions, by the Metamorphosis Foundation. The aim of the conference is building a cyber-resilient society, with digitally competent and responsible citizens.
The speakers in the first session of the second day of the conference were Ana Toškić – Cvetinović from the civic organization Partners for Democratic Change Serbia, Bojan Perkov from the SHARE Foundation, also from Serbia, then by Igor Kuzevski, expert on personal data protection from North Macedonia as well as Caterina Rodelli, EU policy analyst from Access Now, international organization dealing with the digital rights of the citizens.
Bojan Perkov gave a vivid example of the terrifying outreach of the technology for surveillance and collecting biometric data.
“Although for a long time the public had been reacting and the civic organizations and the international organizations strived to stop the implementation of the new video surveillance systems, i.e. the introduction of such invasive surveillance that apparently will include approximately 8,000 cameras – from standard cameras on lamp posts, then the 360 degree cameras, cameras with 4K definition, but also cameras on vehicles, police vest cameras, but also hand-held cameras as small as mobile phones, with the capacity to recognize faces; we all saw what that meant in last year’s protests in Serbia, when roads and bridges were blocked”, Perkov reminded in his presentation.
Although the Serbian Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the authorities had been saying that the surveillance system with face recognition was partially operational – more precisely, that the technical equipment purchased from the Chinese company Huawei was installed, but that the software required to “manage” the surveillance and face recognition was not yet purchased, people were noticed during the protests with hand-held cameras that were not very different from the bigger mobile telephones.
The case started to unfold later on, when some of the journalists who reported from the protests, began receiving misdemeanor fines on their home addresses. The Serbian MoI sanctioned the journalists as organizers of “unannounced protests” by mistake. However, interestingly – as Perkov explained – journalists professionally reporting from the protests were never required identification documents from the police.
“That was really strange and at that point it became clear that the surveillance cameras and face recognition tools were used, although thepPolice claimed that only the equipment was purchased and not the software”, explained Perkov.
Ana Toškić – Cvetinović from “Partners for Democratic Change Serbia” talked about the efforts of her organization to prevent excessive surveillance and privacy violation of citizens, including the struggle of civil society to influence the legal surveillance measures in Serbia.
Caterina Rodelli from Access Now spoke about the same efforts and issues, but this time on the territory of the EU. She participated in the panel discussion moderated by Marijana Jancheska from Metamorphosis Foundation through a video call.
According to Macedonian expert, Igor Kuzevski, who has long previous experience in the now Personal Data Protection Agency of North Macedonia, the privacy of the citizens must be respected, but, notwithstanding, legal and other norms and frameworks must be carefully formulated, so that the work of those who need to protect the society from various threats and terrorism can be performed without hindrances. He mentioned the case of a prosecutor who apparently complained that due to the time limitation for storage of video recordings, he could not include a video recording in an investigation that attempted to prevent a terrorist group. Later on, this group managed to stage a terrorist attack.