The winners of the 13th edition of the Czech Big Brother Awards were announced on 15 February 2018 in Prague. The awards are intended to draw public attention to privacy issues and related alarming trends. The Big Brother Awards are based on a concept created by EDRi member Privacy International. In the Czech Republic, the contest is organised by EDRi member Iuridicum Remedium (IuRE) since 2005.
An eight-member jury comprising of experts on new technologies, lawyers, human rights defenders as well as journalists chose the winners out of forty nominations sent in by the general public. The awards in four different categories went to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Member of the Parliament (MP) Jiří Běhounek, Equa bank, and the Office of the Government. Non-profit organisation Open Whisper Systems won the positive award, named after Edward Snowden.
The award for the biggest privacy intruder in the long-term perspective went to the Ministry of Industry and Trade – the Ministry in charge of the Electronic Communications Act containing legislation related to data retention, which defines the obligation of providers of electronic communication services to collect metadata and store it for the needs of police and other authorities over a period of six months. Such data is very sensitive as it reveals who was involved in the communication as well as the whereabouts of the users of communication services. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has already twice identified such data collection as unacceptable and unconstitutional. In addition, statistics show that this massive collection of data does not result in the decrease of the number of crimes committed nor in the increase in cases successfully solved by the police. Moreover, as is often the case, this measure is most likely to hit all others but the intended group of people – individuals involved in organised crime know how to avoid it. “The jury decided to award the Ministry for its inactivity in a situation where fundamental rights of all citizens are being undermined,” said Jan Vobořil, executive director of IuRe.
The award for the biggest business privacy intruder went to Equabank for forcing its clients to agree to provide the so-called TelcoScore – which is based on the data from mobile phone operators. A typical use of TelcoScore is to verify the client’s credibility. The bank requests it from a telecoms company providing such information. The score is calculated based on 60 different data that the operator has about the client. Although clients are asked to agree with this procedure, in practice they cannot avoid it. This trend is dangerous, as it leads to a situation where clients will have no other option than to agree. “The score is calculated based on unrelated data, such as the client’s whereabouts, mobile phone use, number of journeys abroad, frequency of exchanging the telephone, and so on. “This can mean that in the future our actions can have unexpected impacts in other unrelated areas of life – and this could lead to permanent stress, conformism, and self-censorship,” explained Voboril. All three biggest mobile phone operators present on the Czech market do currently sell customer data in this way.
The award for biggest administrative privacy intruder went to MP Jiří Běhounek for his proposal for an amendment to the Act on Health Services that introduced an unrestricted access to electronic healthcare documentation. As part of the Electronic Identification Act, it passed through the legislative process. It establishes a so-called National Contact Point, through which broad access to electronic medical documentation, including access from abroad, should be facilitated. Alarmingly, there are no limits to this, nor does the legislative text mention whether the patient can influence which data is shared and how.
Last but not least, the positive awards named after Edward Snowden goes to Open Whisper Systems which developed Signal application for encrypted mobile communication. Signal is an encrypted communicator designed primarily for mobile platforms (Android, iOS) for messaging and voice messaging. It can encrypt text messages, pictures as well as phone calls. Signal is now generally regarded as the most secure communication platform in terms of encryption. It has two major advantages. The communication is end-to-end encrypted, which means that only the end users themselves have access to its content. The second advantage is that Signal is an open source application meaning everyone can check what happens with the data.
Czech Big Brother Awards
(Contribution by Jan Vobořil, EDRi member Iuridicum Remedium – IuRE, Czech Republic)