Serbia rejects biometric ID cards

By EDRi · January 31, 2007

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

A grass-roots campaign in Serbia successfully pressed the Serbian government
to back off on a plan to make biometric data compulsory in the country’s new
ID cards. The decision followed a pitched battle prior to the 21 January
2007 election as opponents criticized the accompanying plan for a
centralized database of citizen information and the taking of fingerprints.

The campaign against the Government plan practically started in December
2004, when the Dveri NGO organized a public debate at the College of
Mechanical Engineering in Belgrade. In March 2005, the Zhicha Bishoprie
of the Serbian Orthodox Church organized a scientific forum, from which a
number of IT professionals, university professors and intellectuals sent a
signed appeal, the so-called Zhicha Appeal (“Zicki apel”) to the Serbian
government, asking for a delay in the introduction of the new ID card law
until a public and expert debate could be organized. The Serbian Computer
Science Society (Drustvo za informatiku Srbije) organized a highly visible
public debate in mid-July 2006, with participants from the Serbian Police
Ministry, IT professionals, Serbian Orthodox Church representatives,
sociologists and political scientists, whose conclusions were critical of
the government’s scheme.

As the government plowed ahead with its project, the NGO Za zivot bez ziga
(For Life without Stigma) was organized in May 2006, as an umbrella
organization unifying various NGOs and individuals opposed to the scheme.
The NGO’s website, became the main mouthpiece of the resistance, becoming a
vehicle for educating the Serbian public on the pros and cons of biometrics,
centralized databases, the coming global surveillance society etc.

But the law on ID cards was adopted by the Serbian Parliament on 14 July
2006. The Interior Ministry suggested that “such ID cards were already
widely used in the European Union” and that the biometric ID would ease the
introduction of government electronic services. Large public outcry
developed over the way the law was passed – without prior public debate –
and a scandal inside the Interior Ministry itself arose from the purchase of
equipment for more than $100 million outside of regular procurement
procedures and a full three years before the law itself came before the

The other government statements were dismantled. “Electronic government
services do not require an ID card at all,” insisted Oliver Subotic, a
computer expert and theologian, who has written two books on the ethics of
IT technology and on biometrics. “Accessing e-government services by way of
an ID card is a needless intrusion of privacy. Many European Union countries
have well-developed e-government services without having issued electronic
ID cards at all.”

During its bi-annual Holy Assembly of Archpriests in early October 2006, the
Serbian Orthodox Church issued a decision delegating the Holy Synod – its
executive body – to “intervene with the relevant authorities in order to
prevent the recently-passed Law on ID cards from being put into practice.”
The Serbian Church followed the pattern of similar protests in 2000-2002
within the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, when their respective
governments attempted to institute compulsory electronic ID cards and tax
numbers. Many church members raised objections to having an object – the
“smart chip” – on their ID cards tied to data to which they didn’t have free
access. They also were wary of having their personal data centralized in
electronic form and available to unspecified third parties.

>From June-December 2006 , a number of public discussions were held, with
participation of the civil society and two other scientific forums under
the auspices of the Serbian church. A couple of prominent Serbian political
publications, NIN and New Serbian Political Thought (Nova srpska politicka
misao) published a number of critical texts regarding the government’s
scheme. In mid-December, a petition was launched asking the government to
halt the introduction of the new ID cards with biometric contact chip until
the law could be amended. Thousands of signatures were gathered, which,
together with intensified media interest for the story, and the fact that
the governing coalition was in the middle of an election campaign, led to
the change of the 2006 law.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s administration adopted a government
decree on 11 January 2007 thus taking an unusual step of announcing a change
of the ID cards law. Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic told the press
that “due to privacy concerns raised by citizens” the Law on Identification
Cards would be modified to ensure the chips, with a digitalized photo and
fingerprint, would be included only upon the card holder’s specific request.

Citizens’ groups and non-governmental organizations applauded the concession
but vowed to continue the fight until the entire law was struck down.
Attorney Dragoljub Djordjevic, a founder of the group that spearheaded the
anti-biometric media campaign (Za zivot bez ziga), says his organization
plans to challenge the law in the Serbian Supreme Court. “That would have
been our first step if not for the fact that the court has had a vacancy for
months and cannot legally convene,” said Djordjevic, who is also vice
president of the Serbian Bar Association. “As soon as it does, however, we
shall challenge the centralized database the police plan to set up as an
unconstitutional invasion of privacy. We shall also challenge the taking of
fingerprints of normal, law-abiding citizens as though they were convicted

For Life without Stigma – Za zivot bez ziga (only in Serbian)


Public revolt quashes biometric ID chips (27.01.2007)

(Contribution by Aleksandar Pavic – Co-founder, “Za zivot bez ziga” Serbia)