Uncontrolled snooping versus “universally accepted European practice”
Ukraine’s media have reported that President Yanukovych is “inclined” to sign the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register and Documents which confirm citizenship, identify a person or their special status and that representatives of the EU have said that they cannot comment since they have not been sent the draft law.
Since the law in question, passed by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on 2 October, is alleged to be needed to implement the EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization Action Plan, it seems imperative that EU representatives are fully aware of the grave concern over this bill expressed by a large number of human rights and civic organizations.
They are urging the President to veto the law as it runs counter to GRECO standards on combating corruption, poses a serious threat to the right to privacy and allows the authorities to gather and share an unwarranted amount of information about each Ukrainian citizen.
What information and why?
Human rights groups have raised the alarm over this proposed «Unified State Demographic Register»
No indication is given of the purpose behind gathering the information as is required by EU and international documents on protection of personal information. This was the stated reason for President Yanukovych’s veto on the draft bill in June this year. The law is largely unchanged with no greater clarity on the aim of collecting information.
The list of types of information held is not comprehensive, while as many as 13 documents are envisaged as containing biometric data. The number of different government bodies involved; the very loose wording of the law, as well as the lack of a stated aim make abuse and excessive breach of privacy more than likely.
The authorities will thus be able to keep tabs on virtually all areas of a person’s life, quite conceivably without their knowledge.
Concerns over this bill are not only linked to the obvious scope for intrusion into people’s privacy. It is no accident that the bill’s author Vasyl Hrytsak is closely associated with the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System]. This consortium stands to make millions, if not billions, out of the ongoing business in production of biometric documents, while the Register itself will likely be under the control of the police.
A commercial structure will receive vast amounts of highly-lucrative business from this law without any competitive tender.
It will also have control over access to huge amounts of information about Ukrainian citizens. The fear would seem entirely justified that such information could soon find its way to, for example, the Petrivka Market in Kyiv where it is already easy to purchase databases.
Where is the EU in all this?
The explanatory note states that “the aim of the law is to introduce universally accepted European practice on the creation and functioning of a register of the population, as well as fulfilment by Ukraine of its obligations before the European community on its way to membership of the European Union, as regards the State’s provision of documents with an electronic chip.”
It would be most helpful if the EU could clarify its position regarding fulfilment by Ukraine of its obligations under the EU Visa Liberalization Action Plan.
It is quite clear that Ukrainians travelling abroad should have a biometric passport.
It is considerably less obvious why an internal identity document (internal passport) and driving licence are required to have biometric information.
Viktor Timoshchuk from the Centre for Legal and Political Reform has pointed out that there is no clarity as to:
- the cost of such documents (in the case of the internal passport, renewable every 10 years0;
- the exact list of documents;
- who will pay for all these documents when even without a monopoly by a commercial outfit, the cost would be prohibitive for many Ukrainians;
- why there is no mention of place of residence, meaning that none of the 13 documents can be used to confirm address. This means that not only is the list of biometric documents unnecessarily large, and worryingly open, but it leaves scope for officials to demand what is not set down in law, i.e. what they feel like.
For the reasons above, Ukrainian civic organizations are convinced that the level of personal data collection, number of documents containing biometric information entrusted to a commercial structure in the law on a unified State demographic register have very little in common with universally accepted European practice. President Yanukovych has stated that while inclined to sign the bill, he will first consider expert assessments. These within Ukraine have been damning. Attention from the EU would be most helpful.