Ukrainian Ombudsperson Office concerned by collecting personal information about public servants on Internet

Дата: 29 September 2016
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September 30, the Office of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner on Human Rights will hold an expert discussion to try to determine the border, where collection of information ends and personal data processing begins.

Iryna Kushnir, the representative of the Ombudsperson for the observance of the right to information, said this during the discussion in Kyiv dedicated to the fifth anniversary of adoption of the law on access to public information.

She explained that the non-governmental associations and organizations currently accumulate the information about public servants from the public sources.

For example, they send information request for tax returns of all officials of a certain town, then get the salaries of employees and other data. One profile for a certain person is compiled from all the public sources, including open registries…” the Ombudsperson’s representative said.

According to her, there is a question whether the creation of such profiles, regardless of position of a person, is legitimate. Such actions of NGOs are processing of personal data, which has its own standards and rules in accordance with the international practice.

We have civil servants of lower rank, who may open envelopes or something. They do not make the decisions of national importance,” she noted.

Iryna Kushnir believes that disclosure of such data without a specific history, without bringing a contribution to the public debate is the satisfaction of particular interest, not socially important information.

Media lawyer of the Regional Press Development Institute Oleksandr Burmahin believes, in turn, that such resources are useful for investigative journalists.

This is a very handy thing for investigative journalism. The more open a society is, the more successful it is. In Sweden, you can look through a tax return of your neighbor on the Internet and thus to calculate his income. Nobody sees no danger in it,” he said.

If people come to the public service or the local self-government service, they should realize that this part of their life becomes transparent as they are financed and maintained at the expense of taxpayers,” the media lawyer said.

However, Iryna Kushnir does not agree with him. She referred to the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in the case of Satakunnan Markkinaporssi Oy and Satamedia Oy v. Finland, which will also be viewed at the expert discussion on Friday.

An NGO in Finland collected data from open sources on taxes, made them public and even introduced an SMS service: citizens could send SMS with a person’s name and receive response with the information about that person,” Iryna Kushnir said.

The national courts did not protect the NGO. Thus, the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland considered what the decisive factor was: whether disclosure of data brings contribution to the public debate or just satisfies the public curiosity. The court found that the publication of the database, which was collected with a journalistic purpose, could not be recognized as journalistic activity.

Oleksandr Burmahin notes that the Finnish organizations collected information about ordinary citizens, not only civil servants.

Media lawyer of the Center for Democracy and Rule of Law Ihor Rozkladay is convinced that historical context must be considered in this matter.

The situation in Finland obviously differs from the situation in Ukraine. In Ukraine, we are trying to get out of the corruption field that begins from an ordinary citizen. The level of corruption must be reduced to a level that would not impede the development of the country. Therefore, the current openness is the anti-corruption openness. And it is needed not because we just want to know something. It is needed because we should identify those MPs, who indicate UAH 76,000 in their tax return and then present the police with two cars,” he said.

Mykola Mirnyj, Human Rights Information Centre for Hromadske Radio

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