On 18 February 2020, the Romanian Constitutional Court unanimously declared unconstitutional a new legislative act adopted in September 2019 introducing mandatory SIM card registration. The legislative act in question was an emergency ordinance issued by the Government which wanted to introduce this obligation as a measure “to improve the operation of the 112 emergency service number”. This is the second time the court issues an unconstitutionality decision on mandatory SIM card registration proposals.
The court dismissed the law on procedural grounds, as the government failed to demonstrate the emergency of adopting the ordinance. It also highlighted in its press release that this act of introducing the SIM card registration provision has actually been postponed twice, therefore the urgency to issue an emergency ordinance was non-existent.
Although this is the sixth attempt to introduce legislation on mandatory SIM card registration in Romania, the battle is far from over as, this time, the court did not go into a substantive analysis.
Coincidentally or not, two days later, a false bomb threat (the first in years) was reported in the media. A man called the 112 emergency number claiming that he placed a bomb inside a shopping mall. The call was made from a prepaid SIM card, a fact that the 112 service specifically highlighted in their press release, while amping up about the number of staff involved in responding to this call, subtly suggesting the implications of this types of calls are massive, and if they are proven false, there is nobody that can be taken responsible as prepaid SIM card calls can’t be traced back to an individual.
The Constitutional Court’s decision is a welcomed victory for now, but given the track record of proposing a new legislative proposal on this topic every year or two, we can expect similar legislative proposals in the future.
After a tragic failure by the police to save a teenage girl who was abducted but managed to call the 112 emergency number three times before she was murdered, the Romanian Government adopted an Emergency Ordinance which introduced the obligation to register prepaid SIM cards.
EDRi member ApTI, together with the Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania – the Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH), asked the Romanian Ombudsman to send the law to the Constitutional Court. The Ombudsman challenged the case in court and ApTI sent an amicus curiae in support the unconstitutionality claims, showing that:
- there was no reason to justify the adoption of an emergency ordinance instead of going through the normal parliamentary procedure;
- restricting individual freedoms by requesting to register prepaid SIM cards is a measure disproportionate to the goal that was intended – to limit fake calls to the 112 emergency number;
- no data protection impact assessment has been carried out and the national data protection authority did not support the law;
- the Constitutional Court already decided in 2014 that the measure to introduce mandatory SIM card registration limits the fundamental rights and freedoms and such measures can only be introduced if they are necessary and proportionate.
The 6th attempt to introduce mandatory SIM card registration in Romania (23.10.2020)
Constitutional Court press release (only in Romanian, 18.02.2020)
Timeline of legislative initiatives to introduce mandatory SIM card registration (only in Romanian)
Fake bomb threat at a shopping mall in Romania (only in Romanian, 20.02.2020)
Constitutional Court decision nr. 461/2014 (only in Romanian)
(Contribution by Valentina Pavel, EDRi member ApTI, Romania)