E-govt project: Is citizen privacy under threat?

26. 2. 2008 6:00
Experts outraged for not being consulted over the law

Prague - A bill on e-government, passed today by parliament, can reinforce state control over Czech citizens.

Internet public services are supposed to facilitate administering one´s matters. Instead of visiting bureaus personally, people can handle their personal things via internet or mobile phones.

However, the law on e-government will enable the government yet another thing - officials will have access to online databases containing private data about the citizens. 

What's your number, citizen?

Mainly, the bill proposed by Interior Minister Ivan Langer together with Minister of Justice Jiří Pospíšil doesn't treat the issue of personal privacy at all.

The Ministry of Interior suggested every citizen be assigned a number of ten digits. 

The ID number will be the same as the one that has been used by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in its evidence of insurance payers for years now.

Knowing such a number, officials will have access to all the documents that are stored with the Ministries of Labor, Finance, Law and Interior.

On top of that, it won't be difficult to find out to what person the number belongs.

Anybody who is to communicate with the government online will have to use an electronic signature to which the number will be attached.

A mail box

There is aother ather controversial matter - the citizen will be given a data box where official correspondence such as warrants or fines will be sent. 

The law also sets a rule that as soon as the citize opens his data box, the sent correspodence will be considered as "successfully delivered". If he or she does not open his or her box at all, the letter will be marked as "delivered" in two weeks after it has been sent.

Nonetheless, it is not clear in which way the boxes will be secured. Passwords will be assigned by the Interior Ministry, the bill doesn't mention whether the citizen would be able to change his password by himself.

Should the citizen not have the option of changing the password, it would mean the officials would have aacess to any box - be it private or commercial.

In additon, the law enables the officials to make extra changes in the documents already sent to the citizen.

"Up to you"

The Interior Ministry admits that the officials could use the ID numbers not only when controlling insurance and data boxes, but for other reasons as well. "These extra cases will have to be precisely defined by law," assures the proposal.

If there isn't a precisely defined law on protection of citizens´ data, some believe there would is space for the officials to abuse the electronic mail boxes.

The authors of the proposal clarified the matter of privacy. "It will be up to citizens to decide whether they want to use electronic mail boxes," explained Lenka Vašáková from the Interior Ministry.

Vašáková confirmed that passwords to boxes would be sent to citizens and companies by the Ministry. "A client would be forced by the application to change its password when entering his box for the first time," said Vašáková.

The citizen could ask the Ministry to temporarily deactivate the mail box, should they go on long-term business trip, for example.

Two officials quit in protest

After the law was passed by parliament, two officials that have participated in the project as senior members of the governments Council for Information Society, quit. The Coucil is charged to keep an eye on information technologies being utilized in public services.

Former deputy of the dissolved Ministry of Informatics Dalibor Veřimovský and chief of the Senate head´s office Edvard Kožušník explained their decision to quit their jobs in the Council by pointing out to experts allegedly being denied from commenting on the law. 

Both Veřimovský and Kožušník are members of (e-State), a non-governmental organization aimed at promoting information techologies. The organization has participated on the project from the very beginning.

Since the Council for Information Society wasn't consulted by the politicians, both officials now question the Council´s effectiveness and have even mentioned a possible disolution of the Council.

In addition, the project has been criticized by the Minister of Finance Miroslav Kalousek who believes the costs would exceed 56 million euro (1.4 billion CZK), a sum predicted by the Minister of Interior Ivan Langer himself.

autor: Petr Holub | 26. 2. 2008 6:00

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