Regional countries have a heightened concern over the misuse of personal data for criminal intent.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times -- 16/08/12
Technology allows for easy access of personal data. [Reuters]
Southeast European countries are increasingly becoming concerned with the protection of its citizen's personal data as part of the fight against organised crime and corruption.
Davor Dubravica, head of the regional anti-corruption initiative, said every piece of data that someone collects or posses can be misused for illegal purposes.
"There's always a chance that someone [that works in an official administrative capacity] is selling personal data on someone else's wealth, property or obligation. This data can be used by organised crime groups for racketeering, blackmail, and other illegal actions," Dubravica told SETimes.
The initiative was established in Sarajevo in 2000. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and UNMIK, are members.
"When you get a SIM card, your personal data are recorded … it is the same with internet access. There is a network of people that know who you are, what you talk about on the phone, what you read online, even in the office; the network administrator can read your private e-mails," Bekim Arifi, a Kosovo resident from Podujevo, told SETimes.
Arifi said, however, that the law is not enough. "As long as there are people who can get into your personal life [by hacking a data system], there's no protection of personal data," he said.
In 2010, Kosovo's parliament approved the personal data protection law, and the agency for protection of personal data was established in 2011.
Kosovo's agency for the protection of personal data concluded its first-phase inspection of Kosovo mobile operators in December 2011. The agency said mobile operators "surpass the intention" for which personal data have been collected or processed, and "any further holding, or deposition, constitutes a legal violation, and as such is sanctioned [by law]".
The agency ordered mobile operators to destroy hard and electronic copies of SIM cardholders' personal data and to take measures to preserve personal data files.
The agency signed a number of co-operation agreements in the region, the latest one on August 8th with Croatia.
Ruzhdi Jashari, director of the agency, said that the agreement focuses on developing legislation, co-operating on international projects, and exchanging experience in technology and mass communication.
According to Dubravica, there are ways to stop misuse.
"[Personal data can be protected] if sensitive data are stored in automatised systems. It is necessary to establish adequate surveillance record in order to protect data and identify all officers who have data access for private or illicit use," he said.
Ramadan Ilazi, co-founder of Kosovo FOL Movement, said the idea of personal data protection is new in Kosovo.
"Personal data is mostly misused in the private sector. The best way to protect personal data is to have citizens react upon a suspicion of their personal data misuse," Ilazi told SETimes.
Regional countries have similar mechanisms for the protection of personal data. "Co-operation among them is crucial, having in mind that crime in the Balkans is transnational and regionally well-organised," Ilazi said.
A regional conference on the collection and protection of personal data, under the EU Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance programme, was held in July in The Hague.
Representatives of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia participated in the conference, as part of an EU-financed project intended to strengthen inter-border and international co-operation.