16.05.2006 | Yevhen Zakharov, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Is it correct to include passport data on railway tickets?


On 28 April the third meeting of the Public Council for the Observance of Human Rights (hereafter the Council) took place. The only question where the opinions of almost all members of the public on the Council and representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs fundamentally diverged  concerned whether railway tickets should not only carry the last name, but also the first name and patronymic and passport data of passengers.

This information was provided on 12 April at a briefing by Viktor Bondar, the Minister of Transport and Communications. He stated that his ministry had consistently rejected this since they considered it an unfounded restriction of human rights. He mentioned also that the Ministry of Internal Affairs asks for access to databases of sales of railway tickets.

  Members of the Council learned about this idea from the Internet, and submitted this question for discussion at the meeting on 28 April. The Minister of Internal Affairs and his deputies argued that such measures were needed to protect the victims of crimes and said that the use of this database noticeably improved the success rate in looking for criminals. The members of the public on the Council disagreed arguing that the initiative would:

a) impede the exercising of citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of movement and to respect for private and family life;

b) give excessive power to law enforcement bodies connected with control over movement of individuals within the state and collection of information about a person;

c) create conditions, when stateless individuals and other vulnerable social groups will be deprived of the right to free movement;

d) complicate the issuing of travel documents on trains which will inevitably result in much longer  time needed to buy tickets.

This assessment of the initiative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was approved by all present members of the public on the Council (two members abstained from voting). The members of the Council also asked the top officials of the MIA to discuss such controversial plans with the Council in advance and only then introduce them.

It is interesting that the Ministry of Transport and Communications, according to Mr. Bondar, plans in future to reconsider the existing system whereby the last name and initials are included on  railway tickets: it is not improbable that such practice will be cancelled.

It should be noted that this issue is a specific case of a broader question, namely which powers should be held by investigative operations units of law enforcement bodies and other enforcement institutions as far as gathering information about individuals is concerned. There are, for example, plans to introduce the tax numbers into the passport system in Ukraine, as was envisaged by the concept of a Single State Automated Passport System. There are no legal grounds for this at present, however this system has already been created unofficially and its introduction is planned. In October 2005 the MIA submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine a packet of documents “to make a card for citizens of Ukraine in the form of a plastic card with an inserted electronic chip which will be strictly protected. The chip will hold the number of the card which will be the single card used both in the Tax and in the Pension Funds. The chip will contain all necessary information about a person, and in addition it will be possible to add information about whether a person has a driver’s licence.”

Imagine if all departments begin collecting information about the holder of a tax number. This means that it will be possible to include in the database created for tax numbers of the State Tax Inspection all other data about an individual which is collected, as well as information about his or her family, about bank deposits and accounts,  tax status, property, for example, immovable property and vehicles, credit history, criminal records or other forms of criminal, administrative or disciplinary liability, movement around the country (if passport data ends up on railway tickets) and beyond Ukraine, etc. It half a minute it will be possible to obtain a full run-down on a person..

A state in which such methods for collecting personal data are used  is called a police state in the whole world. However, such a system is being planned in Ukraine.

I consider that analysts from the MIA have not given this issue sufficient attention. If they had, they would be aware that law enforcement bodies in all countries hoped that such measures would help to fight crime, yet practice showed that such methods of identification were not effective, and the results did not improve noticeably. At the same time, the losses inflicted by the weight of police surveillance over the entire population are irreparable. The communities of many countries, therefore, unanimously protested against the introduction of a single personal code (in the USA and Western Europe this happened in the 1970s), and managed to prevent the use of such methods in their states. In the USA, for example, 15 types of identification codes exist, and the law prohibits different bodies from sharing the collected information without the consent of the individual involved. Among post-communist countries such a ban was imposed in Hungary: in 1991 the Constitutional Court of this country acknowledged that the introduction of a single many-purpose code violated the right to privacy and prohibited its being demanded, for instance, when opening a bank account (this is  practiced in Ukraine at present).

We thus have the eternal Ukrainian question: where are we heading? To civilized Western countries, where such practice is regarded as a violation of human rights, or to the East, where the convenience of state officials has more weight than human rights?


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