SERBIA: Government retracts again on biometric surveillance

Another attempt to legalise mass biometric surveillance in Serbia was ditched by the government in a sudden U-turn just as 2022 was drawing to a close. In a little over a year this was the second draft law on internal affairs failing to pass the public hearing stage before its formal introduction to the parliamentary vote.

By Share Foundation (guest author) · February 16, 2023

What happened?

The draft law was pulled back following two public hearing sessions and a granted extension of the stage, initially set for three weeks, at the request of civil society organisations. The Serbian government also announced “broad consultations” in a further redrafting process, with the aim “to clarify all public doubts and for everyone to understand the intent of the law.”

With thousands of Huawei smart cameras already installed throughout public spaces in Serbian capital Belgrade, and the purchase of facial recognition software Griffeye, the authorities are bent on putting the required legal provisions in place to finalise the upside-down process that should have started with broad discussions on new technologies in policing before any decision was made, CSOs warned.

Unlike the first draft law on internal affairs prepared with little knowledge of the public in September 2021, only to be swiftly withdrawn after the backlash, the latest legislative attempt was developed through a series of consultative meetings with experts, members of civil society and academia. However, as the digital rights organisation and EDRi member from Serbia SHARE Foundation had warned, the new draft failed to address “the fundamental issues of the intrusive technology.”

Concerns and recommendations

In the course of the public hearing on the second draft, SHARE Foundation published its position paper on biometric surveillance of public spaces, detailing principles against the legalisation:

  • necessity of the deployment of advanced surveillance systems has not been proven, which is a mandatory requirement;

  • indiscriminate nature of mass surveillance in public spaces fails the mandatory provision of proportionality;

  • sensitive data mass processing already occurs before the intended identification of a specific individual;

  • such processing is in violation of the right to privacy and poses a grave risk to fundamental rights and liberties;

  • the handling of new technologies by public authorities in Serbia has been burdened with the lack of accountability for abuses and public mistrust.

As experts and activists await the call to a new round of broad consultations, former personal data commissioner joined the CSO’s call for moratorium on mass biometric surveillance.

Contribution by: Milica Jovanović, writer and editor, EDRi member, Share Foundation.