The draft law on internal affairs rushed through a short public debate despite the opposition of citizens and experts

The public debate on the Draft Law on internal affairs which will enable biometric surveillance ended Saturday and, if passed, the new law could put the rights of citizens in jeopardy

If adopted, the Law on internal affairs will replace the existing Serbian Law on police. According to N1 media, the regulation in question is comprehensive and systemic. Just reading the abridged version of the Draft took two hours.

Citizens and experts were given an unprecedented short time to comment on the Draft: namely, the debate that ended on Saturday in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš lasted only five days. In contrast, when the previous Law on police was passed, a year was set for the same purposes.

Civil society objected the short deadline set for getting acquainted with the material and commenting on the Draft. Moreover, last week the Belgrade Center for Security Policy drew attention to the fact that experts were surprised that a new law was being passed at all. As Bojan Elek, coordinator of the National Convent for Negotiating Chapter 24, told Danas, the draft appeared on the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in August without prior announcement; also, the prior Government’s plan did not envisage a new law, but amendments to the existing Law on Police, and the convent wasn’t consulted. In Elek’s opinion, the novelties envisaged by the Draft could have been fitted in amendments, without the need for a new law to be passed.

The planned novelties, however, could put the rights of citizens in jeopardy, with which the coordinator of the convention agrees.

One of the articles of the Draft envisages sanctions for publishing data on an official who exercises police powers, which in practice means that no one will be allowed to publish the identity of a police officer who abuses his powers and uses excessive force.

An additional obstacle to identifying such officers will be that their uniforms will no longer bear surnames, but codes.

Also, if the law is adopted, the police will be allowed to film the citizens, but not vice versa, warn NewsMax Adria. As Dobrica Veselinović from the Let’s Not Drown Belgrade movement stated for NewsMax Adria, Let’s Not Drown Belgrade also finds problematic that the Draft proposes sanctions for legal entities that use the word “police” without authorization.

In an article published in Peščanik Former Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, Rodoljub Šabić, stated that the provision (Article 355, paragraph 1, item 1), which envisage sanctions for anyone who “uses the term police without the approval of the Minister” really sounds like it prohibits everyone from using the term police, which raises understandable concerns. However, he explains that this is a “misfortunate, clumsy formulation” which actually means forbidding other subjects to use the word police in their own name.

While this provision may be just clumsy, some of the others remain ominous. The most attention and criticism was caused by the provision that allows the police to use software for automatic detection and recognition of faces based on their biometric characteristics. It should be noted that the equipment for this surveillance system has already been purchased and largely installed from the Chinese partner, Huawei, although there was no public discussion about it, and despite the opposition of civil society. Šabić, who, as the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, repeatedly objected to the documents that were published with the intention of providing a legal basis for the implementation of the supervision project, reminded the public that the installation of the disputed system is “contrary to the Constitution and laws”. Šabić also reminds that the Ministry of Internal Affairs showed great non-cooperation with the citizens, refusing to disclose the details of the contract and the price of the project.

Šabić estimates that the new law introduces the worst and broadest possible formulation of conditions for the application of surveillance software, allowing the police to apply it “whenever they want and in relation to whomever they want”, confirming all the fears that the civil society expressed in relation to the new law.

Only five days ago, the United Nations appealed for the sale and use of similar systems for inhumane surveillance to be suspended by an international moratorium, until adequate legal restrictions are formulated.


Translation: Iskra Krstić

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on Sep 20, 2021.


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