Is the government collecting personal data and private materials from the citizens?

Is the government collecting personal data and private materials from the citizens?

IBNA Special Report/ A debate has been triggered in Albania over suspicions that the government is trying to collect personal and private data of the citizens, forcing every smartphone and tablet user to reveal the IMEI number of their device.

Tirana, July 21, 2014/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Edison Kurani

The government decision

In a closed-door meeting, the government approved a decision “for the creation of the IMEI data base and the registration of IMEI numbers belonging to mobile phone devices which are used in the mobile  communication service networks”.

Subject of this decision which has 90 days to be implemented, are physical or legal persons, who import or trade cellular devices, mobile phone operators and individuals, who want to purchase or possess a cellular device or who at the moment of the entry in force of this decision, own cellular devices for personal use.

According to the decision, the data base for IMEI numbers is established, administered and updated by the Ministry of Finance. This data base will use IMEI numbers, the brand and type of cellular devices accompanied  by other data such as tax ID number of the importer, merchant, physical or legal person, in case the cellular device is owned by the person, individuals, etc.

The individual must send an SMS to the operator in order to provide data for the identity, IMEI number/numbers, brand of device/devices, type and personal identification number.

The owner of the device pays a registration service fee of 500 ALL (around 4 Euros) to the mobile phone operator, who transfers all these incomes to the Ministry of Finance.

The decision forces mobile phone operators to suspend services for every chip card inserted into a device, the IMEI number of which results to be on the black list of the Data Base.

What’s an IMEI

IMEI is the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity. This is a 15 digit unique number, which serves to identify mobile phone devices and tablets. This number is similar to the identity card number which each of us carries in the wallet, thus, the cellular’s passport. Former minister of Justice, Eduard Halimi, says that “the IMEI number secures unrestricted access about the location of the individual, SMS, telephone calls and conversations, Viber, Facebook, Whatsapp, BBM, registered telephone number, photo. In other words, everything private which is located in the mobile device of an individual”.

Halimi’s incentive

Eduard Halimi, current democrat MP, is a known legal expert in the country. He has started a lawsuit against prime minister Edi Rama, which he confirmed today that he has sent it to the Constitutional Court. “We filed a lawsuit against prime minister Edi Rama, because with a government decision, he has ordered all companies to submit the IMEI number of every subscriber in Albania”, says Halimi.

The MP says that “Rama’s order to eavesdrop electronic communications and personal correspondence of everyone, is anti-European and it resembles to a tactic used in oligarchic countries, where everything private, including personal data, are considered to belong to the state and can be used without any restriction”.

Talking about the legal side of the issue, the known lawyer says that “Rama’s order is anti-constitutional, as the violation of the private life and the right of personal data beyond every constitutional standard for the restriction of human rights, breaches five articles of the Albanian Constitution, the European Court for Human Rights and European Court of Justice.

Halimi voices his concern when he mentions the case of the computer servers of the tax office, which were subject to a scandal a few months ago. Unauthorized men entered the servers and made official data disappear. This case is still being investigated.

“The decision to collect the IMEI numbers, if it’s applied,t gives a final blow to the right for privacy and protection of personal data for every citizen, because as it was the case of the theft from the tax office server, every official can steal everything that belongs to us, to you, everything private, by making them a property of the state and by using them for unlawful purposes”, says the former minister.

The European precedent

Four months ago, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, in the ruling relating to cases C-293/12 and C-594/12, dating on 08.04.2014 decided not to allow such servers to hold personal data. The Court ruled that the possession of IMEI by state institutions threatens the right to privacy and personal data of the citizens.

It’s not known if cellular companies in Albania will obey to this decision. Expert Halimi says that this decision openly threatens the legal obligation for the protection of the personal data of their customers, by stressing that in London or Berlin, mother companies of these mobile companies based in Albania, prohibit such thing”.

Citizens react

Aldo M., a young man from Tirana, says that this decision is unacceptable. “Privacy is very important in the life of a person and it must be protected at every condition. It’s also anti-constitutional and it violates European Convention for human rights”.

Miranda E., a 36 year old citizen from Durres, teacher in a public school, is not that worried by this decision. “What can they do to us? We have nothing to hide. If they deal with our jokes on social networks, it would be scary, but I don’t think that they will go as far as this”.

Afrim, 27 years old from Tirana doesn’t share this opinion. He works for an internet company. “This is scary. I and my friends often exchange different messages and in many occasions, jokes of a strong nature. What if they take them seriously, given that the eavesdropping also subjects SMSs and social networks?”

Is this issue deeper than this?

The right of access in the Data Base is reserved to the General Directorate of Customs and customs branches; General Directorate of Taxation and regional taxation directorates; mobile phone companies in the countries; ministry of Interior; State Police; Prosecution and courts.

Today there are electronic devices that can change the IMEI number on a cellular phone in a few minutes and culprits are the first to be updated with such novelties.

Everyone can purchase a device like that made in China for 111 USD. This device tracks down cellular devices through the IMEI number by having access on the cellular phones data. Artin is a computer expert. He has expertise on this issue and offers concerning details. “With the registration of the cellular’s IMEI, everyone who has access on this data can electronically check the movements and locations of an individual during the day. With a single button, the person who has access can see who is having coffee with whom at a given bar , who is sleeping with whom at a particular motel and who is going with whom to a certain beach, etc.” /ibna/