civitates, Share Foundation, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, 2020

The latest report published by BIRN and Share Foundation sheds further light on the trends in digital rights violations in Central and Southeastern Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report presents an overview of the main violations of digital rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia between January 31 and September 30, 2020, and makes a series of recommendations for authorities in order to curb such infringements during future social crises.

In the report, BIRN and Share Foundation conclude that technology, especially in a time of crisis, should not be seen as the solution to complex issues, be that protection of health or upholding public order and safety. Rather, technology should be used to the benefit of citizens and in the interest of their rights and freedoms…

The global public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed that the decades-long discussion on striking a better balance between security and privacy interests still hasn’t provided the world with a better framework… [P]arts of the region of South-east Europe have felt strong pressure exerted on existing rights and freedoms throughout the course of the pandemic…[T]here has been an increase in incidents of censorship, fines and arrests of citizens and journalists, leaks of personal data, privacy violations and the denying of free access to information… [W]e have recorded 221 violations of digital rights in the context of COVID-19.

… Recommendations:

  • Urgent alignment of national personal data protection laws with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Council of Europe Convention 108+ in countries that have not yet done so
  • … Improvement of information security standards
  • … Technological solutions and innovations must be applied in accordance with the legal framework on personal data pro- tection and information security
  • … Surveillance of citizens’ communications and movements must not be carried out on a massive scale