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11.09.2012

Ongoing passport wars

   

Viktor Tymoshchuk from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform writes that on 6 September 2012 the Verkhovna Rada passed in its first reading a draft Law on a Single State Demographic Register.  The bill was submitted by Party of the Regions MP Vasyl Hrytsak.

The neutral bureaucratic title, Viktor Tymoshchuk writes, conceals a draft bill effectively aimed at 1) introducing biometric records for a lot of documents identifying a person, confirming their citizenship or special status; 2) introducing a new electronic database on all Ukrainian citizens and other people living in Ukraine.

In the ideology behind it, and its content, the bill is similar to two previous draft laws, one of which was adopted by parliament last year but vetoed by the President.

The media have associated these draft bills with the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System]  (which Vasyl Hrystak has close links with – translator).

The author notes that on 6 September draft Law 10381 “On documents which identify a person, give them the right to enter Ukraine and leave Ukraine” was not supported.  This latter bill, also submitted by a Party of the Regions MP has effectively been drawn up by the Justice Ministry.  “Thus the winners of this round in the passport wars were the group of supporters of maximum use of biometric documents used with respect to Ukrainians.

Viktor Tymoshchuk writes that all critical comments made previously, including by his Centre, apply in full to Hrytsak’s draft law.

1)  The idea of creating a new database - a Single State Demographic Register.- is extremely dubious. Although this database can be considered the successor to the State Register of Individuals, the scope of information which would be input into the new database is much greater.  If one takes into account the inclusion of biometric data, as well as information about all documents issued a person, the State will receive excessive opportunities for control over the lives of members of the public. In addition, the chances of this database also being sold at Kyiv’s Petrivka Market (where you can buy lots of pirated computer disks – translator) are entirely real.

2)  the number of documents which it is proposed to regulate through one draft law – thirteen – is too great. In our view, in order to achieve progress on implementing the EU Visa Liberalization Action Plan, it would be worth concentrating only on documents for leaving the country. And it should only be on those documents, in particular, passports, that there should be a chip with biometric information.

3)  One can view the norm of the draft bill on retaining two types of passports, one the document held by each citizen, and the other for travel abroad, as a return to a Soviet mode.  Ukraine would in this way be remaining with a small number of countries (North Korea; China and Russia) where there are two passports. The author writes that until recently it had seemed as though Ukraine would move to the use of personal ID customary in most democratic countries.

4)  The draft law does not envisage in the internal passport mandatory indication of place of residence. This however is fairly often required both dealing with the authorities, and in private legal relations (at banks, when applying for a job etc). It remains unclear which documents would confirm a person’s place of residence.  The author anticipates that this could lead to the emergence of yet another document which people would have to turn to officialdom for.

5) Another significant failing in the draft law is the lack of regulation of the procedure for issuing and changing passport documents. There is no list of documents needed to get  ID or a passport. This issue is left to the discretion of the Cabinet of Ministers, thus meaning subordinate legislation which increases the likelihood of regulation not in the interests of Ukrainian citizens.

6)  The time frame for receiving passport documents is unwarrantedly long. The overall period of 30 calendar days could be halved. Otherwise the structures involved in issuing passports will continue to take extra payment for “urgent processing” (within 10 days).

7)  In general the draft law is restricted by excessively general norms regarding payment for issue of the relevant document – it only mentions payment of state duty or consulate fee, yet the draft law does not stipulate their size. It would be much more convenient for members of the public if it was stated whether each kind of document incurred a fee or not, as well as the specific amount.

8)  The draft law retains the existing situation with the body issuing passport documents which will clearly be the State Migration Service. In most democratic countries, the author says, the issue of IDs and internal passports are within the competence of municipal authorities.  He notes that in this year’s address to the Verkhovna Rada, the President named among priority tasks vesting bodies of local self-government with functions involving issue of passports and registration of place of residence.

In general, the author concludes, this draft bill would distance Ukraine from Europe, especially with respect to implementing and protecting citizens’ rights and interests. 

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