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: