Macedonia: Massive surveillance revelation: 20 000 people wiretapped
On 10 February, EDRi-member Metamorphosis, expressed grave concern about the publicly announced allegations of mass and unauthorised surveillance of citizens. Invasions of privacy directly affect freedom of expression in Macedonia, and fuel the overall climate of fear and silence.
On 9 February 2015, the Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev held a press conference in Skopje, announcing that his party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) had obtained evidence that over 20 000 Macedonian citizens were subject to unauthorized surveillance. He stated that he is pressing charges for the massive wiretapping against PM Nikola Gruevski and his cousin, the director of the Counterintelligence Service, and an associate. Zaev also revealed that the evidence was provided by whistleblowers working for the Security Service who are now seek an amnesty for their cooperation.
According to META.mk report from the 9 February conference, Zaev said that all persons of some significance in the society, “all the judiciary, the Synod of the Orthodox Church, NGOs, and journalists were tapped.” He played leaked conversations between current government ministers, indicating that surveillance also extended to officials of the ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE, and their coalition partners. He said that only the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the Director of the Intelligence and Security Sasho Mijalkov were not tapped. They allegedly received daily reports from the 24/7 surveillance operation that especially targeted political opponents during elections. Zaev also implied complicity of the major telecom operators with this massive operation.
After the initial revelation, SDSM announced that they will continue to publish evidence of alleged government corruption, gradually showing the overall effects of the control by the leadership of VMRO-DPMNE on the society. The allegations incited number of reactions demanding impartial investigation by independent media, civil society and international community, as issues of independence of the judiciary have been noted as one of the main obstacles to building democracy and preserving human rights in Macedonia, within reports issued by the EU and the US.
“The right to privacy is an extremely important human right, and the threat to privacy is also a direct threat to our freedom. Authorities must make the decisions on wiretapping and surveillance in accordance with the applicable laws. Those decisions must not be arbitrary decisions made by individuals who have the power to do so. The allegations for mass eavesdropping of more than 20 000 citizens are very serious and the public must seek responsibility from the relevant institutions,” said Bardhyl Jashari, director of the Metamorphosis Foundation.
Metamorphosis reminded the public that the protection of privacy, the protection of personal data, and the protection of human rights related to freedom and dignity that may be violated by eavesdropping, are protected by the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia and by number of laws, including the Law on Personal Data Protection, while the Criminal Code sanctions unauthorized wiretapping. On the other hand, the 2014 European Commission Progress Report on the Republic of Macedonia indicated that it is necessary to further adjust the sector-specific laws in order to fully comply with the European regulations on personal data protection.
Setting the protection of privacy as a priority in building an information society, Metamorphosis has, since 2004, publicly indicated, on a number of occasions, the possibility for abuse due to the lack of mechanisms for supervision over institutions that have the capacity to conduct eavesdropping. In 2008, 2010 and 2012 it advocated against increasing of that capacity without any accountability mechanisms for a number of state bodies, contesting amendments to the Law on Electronic Communications and the laws affecting investigative procedures.
Press Release: Unauthorized Eavesdropping is Unlawful and Unconstitutional (10.02.2015)
Macedonia PM accused of large-scale wire-tapping (09.02.2015)
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia progress report, October 2014
2013 Human Rights Reports: Macedonia
Twitter: #Macedonia-related links in English
EDRi-gram: Macedonian investigative magazine fined in defamation case (22.10.2014)
(Contribution by by Filip Stojanovski and Bardhyl Jashari EDRi-member Metamorphosis, Macedonia)