GISW: Bulgaria can resolve the problem with illicit internet surveillance
The cancellation of the EU’s Data Retention Directive by the European Court of Justice offers Bulgaria a great opportunity to redesign its national legislations so that internet surveillance should not hamper fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of expression. But the resistance of conservative structures linked to the state security apparatus slow down and often reverse such changes, announces a report on surveillance of the global information society. Entitled Global Information Society Watch (GISW) the report is published by the Association for progressive communication (APC.org). The 2014 issue is devoted to Communications surveillance in the digital age. It documents how governments take advantage of the weaknesses in the law and the lack of interest of the users to watch, intercept, analyze and halt the freedom of the global internet communications. The official launching of the report in Bulgaria was on November 21 at the Red House Centre for Culture and Debate. The event was part of BlueLink.net's Action Time one-day forum, devoted to debate and workshops on strategic challenges for civil society in Bulgaria. APC.org offered financial support for the launch of the report in Sofia and the translation of selected chapters.
A paralysing legal and administrative framework in Bulgaria imposes new technological and financial burdens on ISPs who are willing to comply with data retention and surveillance requirements, the report points out. The idea of refusing to comply with the applicable law’s draconian requirements is still new to most ISPs, but there is already the thought of legally challenging the obsolete national law provisions. Conscious citizens and internet connectivity proprietors abide by the law, but are willing to take legal action to remove the obsolete legal texts that force them to spy on internet and phone users show the results from the conducted research in Bulgaria.
Over 50 representatives of civil society, journalists and activists in the area of internet rights and freedom of speech took part in the launching of the Bulgarian version of the report at the centre for culture and debate ‘Red house’ in Sofia. The full book as well as the part about Bulgaria was presented by Todor Yalamov from the Centre for research of democracy and ARC Fund – an analytical centre for digital democracy and technologies. Yalamov, left on the picture, expressed his hope that with the help of BlueLink.net and APC the action steps in the report about Bulgaria can be accomplished. ‘There is a real opportunity that the new government will take the needed steps in that direction’ underlined Yalamov.
The report provides the following action steps that could lead Bulgaria to resolving the problems with excessive and sometimes illicit internet surveillance:
• An in-depth assessment of the existing administrative and legal framework to establish all norms and agencies that regulate internet surveillance.
• Conceptualising a complex set of changes that would lead to minimising the number of surveillance requests and strengthening the ability of both special services and ISPs to cooperate effectively.
• Having Ordinance 40 of Ministry of Interior ultimately cancelled.
• Raising public awareness of the negative implications of excessive internet surveillance and creating political demand for limiting it; limitations that politicians need to comply with when they get elected.
• Building broad coalitions of actors who are interested in limiting internet surveillance, including ISPs, human rights advocates, pro-democracy think tanks and other groups that could participate in decision making when it comes to surveillance.
• Removing the internet surveillance provisions related to the former EU Data Retention Directive from ZES.
• Concentrating efforts on policy advocacy at the EU level to obtain a favourable replacement for the cancelled Data Retention Directive that would have a lasting impact over internet surveillance policies at national and EU level.
As can be seen in the report, there are many people in Bulgaria who think that if they do nothing wrong then they won’t have problems with surveillance, Yalamov commented. This is wrong, he said, because excessive use of surveillance is often used for purely business goals. At the same time the security agencies have enough people who want to use surveillance more and more often despite the regulations of the EU.
The current state of affairs is not optimistic – despite the scandals with illicit surveillance during the Borisov cabinet and the active public attitude after the protests between 2012 – 2014 the number of requests for surveillance increased during term of the government led by Plamen Oresharski, said Pavel Antonov, right on the picture, author of the Bulgarian chapter and executive editor of BlueLink.net. After Borissov came back to power the civil society must keep its pressure so that permanent improvement of the state of surveialnce in the internet can be seen, pointed Antonov.
The presentation of the report Global Information Society Watch for Bulgaria is supported by APC.org in which BuleLink is a member since 2000. The ceremony was part of the one day forum ‘Vreme za deistivie’, organized by BlueLink for the second time. The forum included a number of discussions and presentations of projects the results of which mark the area of action for BlueLink.net in the next years.
The event was part of BlueLink's one-day festival Action Time and was followed by the award ceremony of BlueLink’s Free Electron Award for 2014 – see details about the award's winners here. The award acknowledges strategic use of internet and ICTs for strengthening civil society, democracy and protection of nature.