"Priebe" recommendations on communications interception not included in the government program proposed by Mr. Zaev


In the Recommendations of the Senior Experts' Group on systemic Rule of Law issues relating to the communications interception (commonly known as the Priebe report), the first issue discussed is the surveillance of communications.

The report found that:

"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.". (Emphasis mine.)

Then it recommended that:

"The UBK should have no direct access to the technical equipment allowing mirroring of the communication signal. The proprietary switches should be moved to the premises of the telecommunication providers. The providers should activate and divert signals to the competent law enforcement agencies (Police, Customs Administration and Financial Police) or the security agencies (the Security and Counterintelligence Service (UBK), the Intelligence Agency, and the Ministry of Defence's military security and intelligence service) only upon receipt of the relevant court order, and only for the purposes of lawful interceptions. Under no circumstances should the UBK have the practical capability to capture communications directly." (Emphasis mine.)

Nevertheless, amendments to the Law on electronic communications are not included* in proposed Government program by Zoran Zaev published on 10.03.2017. (*The document is unsearchable, so this claim is based on reading the parts that refer to human rights.)

This outcome in the proposed Government program is in contradiction to the statements made by Mr. Zaev that the "Priebe" reforms will be a priority for the new administration. For example:

The proposed program promises to open a debate for a broader support to amend the Law on interception of communications. Although amending this law is needed and in line with "Priebe", amending it, according to established practice, requires 2/3 majority vote in Parliament. Given the current distribution of parties and MPs a 2/3 vote seems impossible, so it looks reasonable for the Zaev administration to seek broader support, without a straighforward promise that the Law on interception of communications will be amended.

However, to amend the Law on electronic communications such majority is not needed. For example the amendments from June 2010 were passed with 65 MPs voding of which 55 voted yes, 1 abstained, and 9 voted against. The Macedonian parliament has 120 MPs. So, unless I'm terribly misreading the poorly published document, the amendments to end UBK's capability to capture communications directly are not part of the proposed government program.

More on the topic (though not all of it is in English):

The conspiracy against the Republic reaches its climax


I am following the story about the warrant-less wiretapping in Macedonia carried out by the secret police since it was revealed by the opposition leader in February 2015. In the early days of this political, social, and moral crisis, I noted that the opposition party SDSM, specifically its president Zoran Zaev, frist implicated the telecommunications operators in Macedonia as collaborators in the warrant-less wiretapping, only to backtrack on that statement few weeks later.

In his early statements (12.02.2015) Zoran Zaev claimed that the wiretapping could not have happened without the knowledge of the operators, but just two weeks later (27.02.2015) Zaev said that the operators have no responsibility whatsoever at a press-conference for bombshell #5. -- from The silence of the telecom operators, June 4 2015.

The telecommunications operators also maintained that they worked and still work within the law.

All of these claims were proved wrong today, November 18 2016, when at the Special prosecutor press conference (link in Macedonian) it was revealed that:

„Тhe unlawful wiretapping of several thousands people that lived in the Republic of Macedonia in the period from 2008 to 2015 violated the privacy of their personal and family life, and the secrecy of communications"

The equipment that is installed in the operators' networks and is used for surveillance of communication in a way in which the secret police has 'direct, autonomous, and uninterrupted' access is allowed by law only in a part of the period from 2008 to 2015. This period includes 1. the months from June 2010 when the new law for electronic communications came into power, until December 2010 when the Constitutional Court canceled the articles regarding the equipment and access, and 2. the period since February 2014 when the new law for electronic communications came into power, that has the same canceled provisions (on which, this time, the Constitutional Court is silent for more than a year).

In fact, in the eight-year period from 2008 to 2015, direct, autonomous, and uninterrupted access was allowed by law in only 2.5 years. This means that the operators allowed conventional access (i.e. in a way that the secret police does not access their network autonomously at their will) knowing that there is no court order for such an access to peoples' communications, or that the equipment for direct, autonomous, and uninterrupted access was working during the entire period, even when there was no law allowing that. In the latter case it would mean that such access was made available to the secret police 2 years before the law allowing it was even discussed in Parliament.

Today's SPO press conference casts a serious doubt on the claims that operators worked according to prescribed laws. The law requires that telecommunications operators must cooperate with the SPO. Morality requires that their executives at least tender their resignations.

More on the topic (though not all of it is in English):

The silence of the telecom operators


Since February 2015 the opposition led by Zoran Zaev publishes the so called bombshells which reveal "the truth about Macedonia". They claim that the recordings contain alleged scandals, corruption, and abuses made by the leading people in the Government and the ruling political parties. They also claim that these recordings are not just some or few recordings that are made by accident, but that they are a small part of the millions of files of surveillance of communications of over 20000 citizens in Macedonia. While the main narrative stays the same, a part of the story changed over time: the part about the role of the telecom operators in this affair. In his early statements (12.02.2015) Zoran Zaev claimed that the wiretapping could not have happened without the knowledge of the operators, but just two weeks later (27.02.2015) Zaev said that the operators have no responsibility whatsoever at a press-conference for bombshell #5.

Since these statements raised suspicion about what exactly happened regarding the alleged mass surveillance of 20000 people, in February I started researching the laws. The analysis of that time led me to the following revelations:

1. Article 115 paragraph 2 of the Law for electronic communications allowed for usage of mass surveillance technology in June 2010;
2. This legal arrangement was made null and void (luckily) just 6 months later when the Constitutional court made its decision in December 2010;
3. The same legal provisions were reintroduced to the law in February 2014 when the new Law for electronic communications entered into force.

According to many sources (the opposition, journalists, political analysts) large part of the recordings were made between 2011-2014. Therefore the logical question, when the claim that 20000 people were under surveillance is undisputed,what happened with the (shortly legal) technology from 2010 in the period from 2010 to 2014?

Logically, at least for me, was to ask this question to the operators (T-Mobile, Makedonski Telekom, VIP and One) and to the regulator (AEK) in the following form:

1. Which actions did the operator take to comply with the decision of the Constitutional court of Republic of Macedonia U. No. 139/2010-0-1 from 15.12.2010?

2. Which actions did the Agency for electronic communications take in order to determine whether the telecom operators complied with the decision of the Constitutional court of Republic of Macedonia U. No. 139/2010-0-1 from 15.12.2010?

Furthermore, since the number of cases for which the courts have allowed special investigative measures, which include surveillance of communications, is a publicly available information, it was logical to ask the operators how many requests have they received individually, especially regarding the retained data of their users. This is a completely statistical information: if we know that in 2013 there were 226 approved requests for surveillance of communication, then the information how many requests were received by each operator will tell us only what was the involvement of each operator.

All of these FOI requests were denied, mostly by claiming that any answer will be a breach of "classified information". Only AEK did not respond at all. For all of the FOI requests I submitted a complaint to the Commission for protection of the right to free access of information of public interest, and now I wait for their response. I hope the Commission will find that to answer the question about complying to a court order and anonymous statistics cannot be hidden from the public.

Until we have their answer, visit this galery for the answers from the operators (in Macedonian).

Published on OKNO 5.6.2015: