Whose Access to Information?
Ukraine’s leaders have once again used one scandalous bill to deftly slip in others which are potentially no less of a threat to freedom of speech and intrusion into people’s lives.
All of the events on 2 October seemed orchestrated. The rescinding of the Party of the Regions supported libel law was presented to the west as a triumph for freedom of speech, while such mouthpieces for the current regime as Olena Bondarenko made it abundantly clear to journalists that any reprieve was temporary. Attention, however, had been deflected by another thoroughly obnoxious, but this time non-party-affiliated draft law. The bill passed in its first reading on Tuesday criminalizes something termed as “promotion of homosexuality”. Interpret it as you wish since its authors have not bothered. Why indeed would they when if passed in its present form, the law’s very vagueness would not merely be a gift to all homophobes, but also provide the police and courts with yet another weapon?.
There was no let up in the ammunition stockpiling with adoption in full on Tuesday of a bill with a deceptively dull title – On a Single State Demographic Register. The bill introduces biometric records for a large number of identity documents, as well as a new electronic database on all Ukrainian citizens and other people living in Ukraine.
It claims to be complying with requirements under the EU Visa Liberalization Action Plan. With Ukraine’s track record as far as meeting EU standards over the last couple of years that might seem a pleasant change. It is not.
The EU requires biometric passports only. The draft bill adopted on Tuesday will use such data for 13 documents, including driving licence and the internal “passport” (identity document).
It is no secret what the author of the draft law – Vasyl Hrytsak and the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System] which he is closely associated with – stand to gain. All these biometric documents will be a huge financial drain on most Ukrainians and seriously rich pickings for SSAPS.
Previous bills tabled by Hrytsak have been rejected, or vetoed by the President. This latest has thus far been suspiciously well-received, perhaps because of the other element it involves. The proposed Single State Demographic Register would provide one database with a very broad range of information – both biometric and ordinary - stored and next to no guarantees of privacy. The authorities will thus obtain excessive opportunities for keeping tabs on members of the public. Now even those optimistic souls who believe that the authorities have only their good at heart may not be so confident about those likely in the near future to be flogging pirated versions of the same database at Kyiv’s Petrivka Market.
Optimism in any shape or form would seem unwarranted. Ukraine’s leaders have of late demonstrated considerable enthusiasm for measures which intimidate journalists and civic activists (the laws on Personal Data Protection, on court duty, not to mention the libel law), as well as those which restrict the public’s right to know how their taxes are being spent. They now propose a single database with copious amounts of information stored about each individual and provide absolutely no guarantees of privacy and security.
As is so often the case these days, big brother tactics go hand in hand with questionable financial deals, and all under the guise of compliance with EU requirements for visa liberalization.