Strengthening citizens in realizing the right to Free Access to Information and Data Protection through public Advocacy for adoption of the amendment to the FOIA and the Law on Classified Information


Due to the development and promotion of the right to access to information and right to privacy that includes protection of personal data, necessity has arisen over the past several decades to regulate three complementary areas by means of a uniform set of norms:

1. Free access to information;

2. Protection of personal data; and

3. Classified information.

Legislation on access to information, personal data protection and classified information, harmonized with contemporary international and European standards represent a prerequisite and indeed a condition for European and other integrations, especially accession to full EU membership, participation in the Partnership for Peace program pending full membership in NATO. YUCOM along with Coalition for Free Access to Information had largely influenced the policy of Serbia towards defining these areas.

However, despite these endeavors, Serbia is still the only European country that has no specific legislation on classified information, whereas somewhat more than 300 administrative documents (bylaws) enacted more than fifteen years ago tackle this area only partially and unsatisfactorily. This can be explained by the fact that these instruments were “inherited” either from the communist system or from the period covered by wars during Milosevic’s regime.

Based on the accomplishment of the Coalition in pursuing the rights defined in the Constitution of Serbia, the project will form a climate for continued and sustained raising of citizens’ awareness of the right to Free Access to Information, Personal Data Protection and Data classification.

The project has two steps: 1. advocacy for the establishment of the new legal framework – adoption of the Law on Data Classification and amendments to Law on FOI that Coalition submitted to the National Assembly and 2. raising public awareness through monitoring the implementation of the Law on Personal Data Protection and Law on FOI. Also the project will seek for limitations in existent mechanisms due to the lack of adequate legal framework.

The advocacy activities will be articulated and guided together with other members of Coalition for Free Access to Information (at the time Coalition has 14 members and one observer member) and YUCOM will initiate steps aimed at broadening the role of the Coalition to the area of Personal Data Protection and further strengthening of the Coalition (its media presence and web site). The new opportunity will be raising of the public awareness through continuation of the work of the Call center for free Access to Information that YUCOM runs as a way of reaching citizens in proactive way. Call center since its founding in February 2009 served more than 600 citizens. In the project extension Call center will still be the focal point to inform citizens on possibilities for use of these rights through helping them file a request and complaint necessary for a better understanding of citizens’ role in democratic society and moreover to raise the awareness of the need to adopt the necessary Law on Data Classification as prerequisite for EU integration process. Call center in previous period had good visibility in media and the number of interested citizens for the service of the Call center raised for more than 50% after every presentation on media (especially electronic ones). The role of the citizens in the advocacy initiative will be emphasized although it is frequently marginalized by the inability and conservative attitude of the state to embrace new reality – that the citizen is not passive any more, but rather an active participant involved in social and political processes. One of the focal points of advocacy activities will continue to consist of closed meetings with government officials, public hearings on the Law on Data Classification, official requests, suggestions and motions addressed to Parliament, President and other relevant institutions.

These activities will be carried out along with conference/seminar for selected target groups, where both citizens and public officials will be involved in the discussion on the necessity of adopting the amendments and Laws that the project is advocating for and broadening the knowledge on adopted law on Personal Data Protection. YUCOM will elaborate a media strategy based on partnership with media and the citizens need to realize their right to Free Access to Information, personal data protection and to have insight in the documents that the state is now hiding as secret data. YUCOM will carry out all activities with good care for wide and balanced distribution of activities throughout Serbia. Also printed material will be widely distributed to promote the work of the Coalition and the Call center.

More than a year after the initiation of the project implemented by YUCOM, Law on Data Protection was adopted and its implementation is under monitoring. Adopted Law is in accordance with standards contained in the EU Directive No. 95/46/EC – a document which lays the foundation of the personal data protection in the legal system of the European Union.

Several cases related of unlawful reveal of the data were raised in the public. As a result we have a number of texts in newspapers and opened discussion in electronic media. Journalists are aware of the law on data protection but in practice it is not adequately implemented. YUCOM plans to start a number of cases (procedures) related to the breach of the right to privacy.

Second law that the project and the Coalition are advocating for is Law on Data Classification. After collection of 35.000 signatures law entered the parliamentary procedure in November 2007. However it was not enough to follow the rules of procedure and to really put the Law in front of the members of parliament. The Law was unlawfully kept in Ministry of Interior for the reason of signature verification for more than a year. In the meantime, Ministry of Justice formed a group of experts and starting drafting the new model law. Coalition decided to enter this expert group and to try to impose the provisions that will create a modern law on data classification. Group consisted of representatives of Ministry of Justice, BIA Serbian security agency, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign affairs, advisor of Serbian president and Coalition for Free Access to information members. The last information is that the group finished its work with a document that is ready to be sent to the ministries for opinion. YUCOM conducted a research in some of the ministries in order to find out if the document is sent to them and if they have given a opinion. Also State Secretary in the Ministry of Justice announced on July 3, 2009 that the law drafted by this working group will be in the parliament in mid July and thus solving the issue of classified information. He also announced that after the implementation of the law (postponed for January 1, 2010) more than 90% of the documents, now classified as secrets, will be revealed to the public and thus will become reachable through requests filed according to the FOIA. YUCOM will for that reason also monitor the process of data being unclassified – lifted the sign of secrecy.

Third law is consisting of amendments to the current Law on Free Access to Information and it is also submitted with more than 35.000 signatures of citizens. These changes are focused on elements that are most important for realization of the right to access to information. As first regulation which anticipates the right to appeal to the Commissioner on availability of information and protection of personal data regarding decisions of the highest state authorities. (National Assembly, President of the Republic, Government of the Republic of Serbia, Supreme Court of Serbia, Constitutional Court and the Republic Public Prosecutor); regulation on protection of the insider (whistleblower, an institution whose establishing and protection is ordered by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body – Group of States Against Corruption – GRECO); as well as the regulation on sanctity of the Law on Free Access to Information in regard to laws in other areas which will be adopted in the future. YUCOM will also rely on Transparency as organization that is active in anticorruption issues in order to present the changes demanded by the law as a tool for evading corruption. We are also planning to use the new campaign of President of the Republic to suppress corruption in order to position our legislative initiative as a tool against possible corruption.

The Law finally entered the procedure and currently is listed as law in procedure. We must emphasize that this law is the only one to be listed as one suggested by citizens. All others are suggested by the Government.


About Author

Ostavite odgovor