Occam's razor on surveillance in Macedonia


There is a paragraph in the report of the experts group led by Reinhard Priebe that locates the obligation of the telecommunications operators. This is nothing new, since I have been writing about this obligation for a long time. However, when a European expert does that it resounds much louder in the public:

Acting on the basis of Articles 175 and 176 of the Law on Electronic Communication, each of the three national telecommunications providers equips the UBK with the necessary technical apparatus, enabling it to mirror directly their entire operational centres. As a consequence, from a practical point of view, the UBK can intercept communications directly, autonomously and unimpeded, regardless of whether a court order has or has not been issued in accordance with the Law on Interception of Communications. (Pages 5-6 of the report of 8th of June 2015 of the expert group of the European Commission).

The report of the experts group confirms two things: the equipment exists at the operators’ premises and that equipment is in use.

Still, the question that we constantly seek answer to is since when is the equipment in use? There is less and less doubt that the UBK, operating without court order breached the laws and the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, but did he operators follow suit?

Articles 175 and 175 of the Law on electronic communications are valid since February 2014 when the said law was voted by the Parliament (Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia No. 39/2014). However, we heard from the recordings and the journalistic analysis the conversations took place at different time periods and there are recordings even since 2011. How could have these recordings been made if the Direction had not been allowed to “ mirror directly their entire operational centres?”

Infact, with the changes of the Law on electronic communications of 2010 (Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia No. 83/2010) the equipment was set at the operators. However, shortly afterwards, in December 2010 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Macedonia canceled the articles of the law that allow “ direct, autonomous and unimpeded” wiretapping. The cancellation means that this access of DBK to the operators is illegal, and their obligation is to stop it. If that Decision of the Constitutional Court was respected, then how come there are recordings from 2011 (one example is the destruction of “Kosmos” building)?

The operators maintain hat they had acted according to the law, but there are hundreds of recordings that suggest otherwise. The proverb goes, where there is smoke there is fire. They make no effort to restore the public thrust with regards to their handling of the users’ data. At the same time, the Agency for electronic communication and the Direction for personal data protection which are in charge of surveillance of the telecommunications and the right to privacy of the users remain calm and indifferent to the mass abuse that we are witnessing.

The Occam’s razor is a principle stating that out of possible hypothesis we should choose the one containing the least assumptions. This is it: The operators did not switch off the equipment installed in 2010 and breached the decision of the Constitutional court and allowed continuous wiretapping even when the law did not provide this obligation.

The operators were entrusted with an important and responsible role in society, and according to the laws they have to take care of the privacy and the confidentiality of their users’ data they have access to. In times when digital communications play an increasingly significant role in the social and political activities their responsibility increases. If they want to show us that they are up for the challenge and that the aforementioned hypothesis is incorrect, then they can publish the acts by which their directors order switching off and dismantling of the equipment that allowed direct access to communications according to the Decision of the Constitutional court. If those acts contain classified information, we will be satisfied with documents containing black fields as those from the movies. Until then: where there is smoke there is fire.

Published on Radio Free Europe.
Partially published on Libertas.
Published on OKNO.
Published on IT.com.mk.