Serbia withdraws a proposed Biometric Surveillance Bill following national and international pressure
On 23 September, the Serbian Minister of Interior Aleksandar Vulin announced that the Draft Law on Internal Affairs, which contained provisions for legalising a massive biometric video surveillance system, was pulled from the further procedure. This turn of events presents a key victory in SHARE Foundation’s two and a half year-long battle against smart cameras in Belgrade, which were installed by the Ministry of Interior and supplied by Chinese tech giant Huawei.
During public consultations, SHARE Foundation sent comments on the Draft Law, which put Serbia in danger of becoming the first country in Europe with permanent indiscriminate surveillance of citizens in public spaces. EDRi’s Brussels office also warned the Serbian government of the dangers to privacy and other human rights if such a law was passed.
Gathering and inspiring the community
This success would not have been possible without SHARE’s community and international partners, such as the EDRi office and other member organisations, as well as related initiatives such as Reclaim Your Face and Ban Biometric Surveillance. Our battle was also supported by Members of the European Parliament which put international pressure on the Serbian government.
Huge awareness raising efforts were needed to highlight the importance of this issue, especially in a society with low privacy priorities such as Serbia. Through SHARE’s initiative called “Thousands of Cameras” (#hiljadekamera), we gathered a community of experts with various backgrounds (law, policy, tech, art, activism) as well as citizens worried about the implications of biometric surveillance in our streets and public spaces. Actions like “hunt for cameras”, where we called upon citizens to map smart cameras in their neighbourhoods, an online petition against biometric surveillance and a crowdfunding campaign for “Thousands of Cameras” have all shown that the fight against biometric surveillance can mobilise people effectively. The datathon organised to make a one-stop platform for the “Thousands of Cameras” initiative was a milestone that enabled us to keep pushing against this dangerously intrusive technology.
One of the key preconditions for success was the new Law on Personal Data Protection, modelled after the GDPR, which requires a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) to be conducted before intrusive data processing mechanisms are put in place and approved by the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection. This led to the Commissioner denying the DPIAs conducted by the Ministry of Interior on two occasions, citing that such a system lacked an adequate legal basis.
International standards and opinions on biometric surveillance provided by bodies such as the UN, Council of Europe and European Union institutions all provided valid points on why such technologies should be banned in any society aspiring towards democracy and the full respect of human rights.
However, SHARE also found that a multidisciplinary approach to the topic was necessary. Solely a legal angle is inadequate to argue against such a controversial issue. It needs to be tackled from different perspectives, such as human rights concerns, technological aspects (techno-solutionism) and by focusing on the impact on citizens’ everyday lives, particularly in vulnerable communities.
Getting the message across via the media was also instrumental. In the past couple of years over 300 news articles have been written about biometric surveillance in Belgrade, in both domestic and international media. In that respect, it is of utmost importance to forging partnerships with media and journalists interested in the topic, as they can immensely contribute to spreading awareness and mobilising people.
- SHARE Foundation, Draft withdrawal a step towards a moratorium on biometric surveillance, 23 September 2021: https://www.sharefoundation.info/en/draft-withdrawal-a-step-towards-moratorium-on-biometric-surveillance/
- SHARE Foundation, Total surveillance law proposed in Serbia, 21 September 2021: https://www.sharefoundation.info/en/total-surveillance-law-proposed-in-serbia/
- SHARE Foundation comments on the Draft Law on Internal Affairs, 18 September 2021: https://www.sharefoundation.info/wp-content/uploads/Draft-Law-on-Internal-Affairs_Comments_SHARE-Foundation.pdf
- Thousands of Cameras website: https://hiljade.kamera.rs/e