Balkans reaffirm commitment to data protection

It should come as no surprise that the EU considers the protection of personal data as a fundamental right guaranteed by a number of international and national legal acts. These laws cover the right to have private and family life respected, the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data, and the free movement of such data.

In an economy that generates a GDP of more than $17.5 trillion, protecting personal data is a manageable endeavor because the people doing most of the generating have the most to lose. How do things fare across the border in the Balkans (excluding EU member states), which generates a combined GDP of over $148.3 billion?

Given their monetary disadvantage, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are managing to hold their own. On 8 August, the agencies for protection of personal data in Croatia and Kosovo signed the latest cooperation agreement in the region, according to SETimes. The director of Kosovo’s agency, Ruzhdi Jashari, told SETimes that the agreement deals with developing legislation, cooperating on international projects, and exchanging experience in technology and mass communication.

In Macedonia, the Directorate for Personal Data Protection has released the Strategy for Personal Data Protection 2012-2016, which is followed by an action plan. The document includes seven goals; including ensuring an efficient system for personal data protection, continuous harmonization of national legislation, increasing international cooperation, and raising public awareness.

A list of strengths and weaknesses is also included: National legislation fully harmonized with EU legislation, a team of highly specialized employees, modern IT equipment and software, and an established way of communication with controllers and processors of personal data as well as the public as a whole are a few of the listed strengths.

The weaknesses are more recognizable: deficient funds, insufficient personnel, scanty public awareness, and an absence of a legal mechanism for the participation of the Directorate in the process of adopting new laws.

To cope with the challenges, the action plan calls for an easier way for people to report possible misuses of personal data, citizens’ access to personal data more efficient, and clear checklists for those who handle personal data.

On 28 July Serbia’s Commissioner for Personal Data Protection launched the website “You Have the Right to Know” with the intention of educating young adults about the importance of personal data protection. To promote the website, the Commissioner will distribute promotional posters to high school throughout Serbia.

Of course, all the laws, regulations, guidelines, and checklists only work if individuals are  willing to be proactive in the protection of their personal data. Macedonia’s directorate has only nineteen people on staff. Montenegro’s data protection law is still a work in progress. In Kosovo recently, a man taking out a mortgage on his house discovered that someone had used his name to purchase property around the country. In another example, Serbians using SMS to enter a prize competition promptly had their phone numbers sold to a marketing agency that proceeded to call them with a marketing survey the next day. When asked, the marketing agency admitted they bought the dta from the organizers of the contest.

As the co-founder of the Kosovo FOL Movement, Ramadan Ilazi, told SETimes, “Personal data is mostly misused by the private sector. The best way to protect personal data is to have citizens react upon suspicion of [the misuse of their personal data].”

Front page photo by quapan/Flickr. Creative Commons

About the Author

Cameron Virkus

Cameron Virkus is a contributor from South Carolina currently living in Prague after spending a few years in Taiwan.
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