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Thursday, 19 January 2012 11:49 |

Most often they suspect they are being eavesdropped

Since 2009, a total of 11 complaints have been filed against the work of BIA, MSA and MIA. Not a single case of illegally eavesdropping has been established so far. The control of agencies does not serve that citizens find out whether an agency has "picked on them" or to satisfy their curiosity. The most common flaws in their work are completely obsolete regulations on the basis of which the security checks are carried out for certain positions in some public authorities and organisations.

INTERVIEW

Belgrade - Since 2009, a total of 11 complaints have been filed against the work of BIA, Military Security Agency and Military Intelligence Agency, and in three other cases I have acted on my own initiative, says for Danas Saša Janković, the Protector of Citizens.

He points out that citizens often suspect to be the victims of unlawful use of special measures that security and intelligence agencies apply in their daily work.

- If a citizen offers sufficient grounds for suspecting that some of the agencies treat him or her particularly unfairly or that he or she may suffer an irreparable damage due to the agency’s unlawful or irregular work, the Protector of Citizens may decide to examine the operation of the agency without requiring the complainant to previously exhaust all available legal remedies, for example, to address the internal control body or court - says Janković.

He also says that in the process of control the Protector of Citizens is authorised to find out all the facts necessary to determine whether a person's freedoms and rights have been violated, including the details of the ongoing actions. He adds that such data must be collected by the Protector of Citizens himself, and that his associates are not authorised to have insight in such information.

- In order to do this job, the Protector of Citizens has full access to the equipment, documents and staff of these agencies. However, the control of agencies does not serve that citizens find out whether an agency has "picked on them" or to satisfy their curiosity, because, if the agency acts legally, the Protector of Citizens himself will keep secret what he has learned in the control procedure. In practice this means that regardless of whether the agency deals with the citizen who filed a complaint, but in accordance with the law, or does not deal at all, once the control procedure is completed, the Protector of Citizens will send an identical notification to the citizen saying that the complaint has been reviewed, necessary checks have been carried out and no violation of the complainant’s freedoms and rights by unlawful or irregular agency work has been established - explains Janković. He also adds that this is the standard that allows both the effective control and the achievement of the purpose for which these agencies exist.

- However, if the control procedure reveals a violation of law or an error in work, the Protector of Citizens shall take appropriate measures - including the filing of criminal, misdemeanour and other charges, and making recommendations to the agency to rectify its errors, while the citizen is informed thereof in accordance with the nature of established unlawfulness and irregularities – emphasises Janković.

He also notes that so far no case of illegal eavesdropping has been established but there were some cases in which the errors in work have been established, such as the complete obsolescence of the regulations under which the security checks are performed for certain positions in some public authorities and organisations.

- In one case, the complaint referred to the fact that the members of a security agency inquired about the situation in a local community. Apart from being unpleasant for the agency, because it indicated that its members were not discreet enough, such a complaint, taken into consideration the subject of the agency’s inquiry, was groundless because the law determines that the work of intelligence agencies is to gather information relevant to the protection of security of citizens and the state – points out Janković. Janković also deems interesting the fact that he, as the Protector of Citizens, is addressed by citizens but also by the present and former members of these agencies, pointing out to specific irregularities or violations of their rights.

- The purpose of these procedures is not only to eliminate possible violations of the rights of the citizens who have filed complaints, but also to improve the work of agencies in the way to fully and properly respect the rights and freedoms that our legal system guarantees to every person. In the control procedures, I cooperate with the internal controls of security agencies, but I also assess their work. I have had particularly good cooperation with Borisav Banović, Inspector General of the Military Security Agency and Military Intelligence Agency - says our collocutor.

Asked whether BIA applied the recommendations he made ​​during his control visits, Јаnkоvić says that the Agency have so far fully implemented specific recommendations for elimination of identified flaws or improvement of its work, thus minimising the potential for violation of citizen rights.

- The big problem remains to be a very imprecise Law on Security Information Agency and I recommended its amendments long time ago, but without results so far. Also, BIA and MSA apply in their work the Law on Electronic Communications, and the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection Rodoljub Šabic and myself, on the initiative of professional associations, challenged certain provisions of that Law before the Constitutional Court more than a year ago, because we believe that they contravene the constitutional guarantees of human rights. The Constitutional Court has not considered it yet - stresses the Protector of Citizens.

No complaints about “silent SМS”

Sаšа Јаnkоvić emphasises that so far there has been no citizen complaints about the use of “silent SМS” for tracking citizens. He says that even if there were such complaints, their validity would depend on the fact whether a citizen’s privacy is interfered with on the basis of a decision issued by a competent body and whether it is implemented conscientiously.

- When the agencies get permission to intercept communication of citizens, read their e-mails, follow their movements, then they use all available technical and human capabilities to carry out the task in a lawful manner. Therefore, the use of phone software that would, within the limits of a court decision, allow access to those data whose collection has been approved (and not beyond them), would not represent the infringement of citizens’ rights and freedoms.