Coronavirus surveillance: human rights as another victim of the pandemic?

For weeks now, we have all been giving up the activities that are important to us, thus showing patience, responsibility and trust in the institutions managing this health crisis. But the trust we have put into our politicians will be betrayed if the measures taken are not carefully aimed at suppressing the infection and its consequences, but are instead abused by the government to implement unlimited tracking of all mobile phones in Croatia.

The Government of Croatia and other institutions managing the crisis have in recent weeks demonstrated their readiness and capability to responsibly and adequately protect the health and life of people in Croatia from the coronavirus pandemic, and measures have been introduced in which constitutional and human rights, such as the freedom of movement, the right to work and to assemble in public have already been severely restricted.

Unfortunately, some of the Government’s actions, including Prime Minister Plenkovic’s unsuccessful proposal last week for Parliament to hand over its jurisdiction to the Government, and announcements of changes to labor law which would curtail workers’ rights, leave room for doubt about the intentions behind state measures and may cast doubt on everything that has been done so far.

The latest worrying step is the Government’s proposal to amend the Electronic Communications Act, which would enable the tracking of the location of every mobile phone in Croatia, which surpasses the purpose of protecting public health. This measure is also ineffective because it is easy to trick it simply by leaving your mobile phone at home. In addition, there are no provisions regarding the duration of the monitoring period or a prescribed method of processing the collected data, namely their storage and destruction, as well as the control of the data collected.  No one is trying to dispute the need to effectively combat the COVID-19 infection, but the intended measures are not effective or appropriate and allow the possibility of unauthorized collection, processing and distribution of citizens’ private information.

It is also clear that we are in a state of emergency due to a pandemic and that the proposed measures restrict constitutional rights. In such cases, the article 17 of the Constitution prescribes that temporary restrictions on constitutional rights must be adopted by a two-thirds majority of all representatives, and not in a manner the ruling coalition would like to pass them. In these extraordinary circumstances, when the space and time for large-scale democratic debate are reduced, it is necessary that temporary restrictions on human rights are passed by a broad consensus of representatives of the parliament. If similar restrictions on human rights were introduced in accordance with the Government’s proposal, it is possible that their implementation would continue even after this natural disaster ends.  It is unacceptable that this emergency is being used to increase the powers of the executive branch and as a justification for imposing excessive and unnecessary surveillance measures on citizens which could possibly last even after this state of emergency ends. How we are going to limit the spread of infection and its consequences is not unimportant – the task of the Government, Parliament and other institutions is not only to prevent the spread of infection but also to prevent the spread of infection in a way that does not leave devastating consequences, a weakened democracy and people deprived of their rights.

Only responsibility, solidarity and trust can help us overcome this crisis, but the latter will be betrayed if the measures taken are not carefully aimed at fighting the infection and its consequences, but are instead abused by the government. We want a responsible government, a society of solidarity in which the relations of all people and institutions are based on trust.

This reaction is signed by the following organizations:

OWID // Organization for Workers’ Initiative and Democratization
Brod ecological society – BED
CESI – Center for Education, Counseling and Research
Centre for Civil Initiatives Poreč
Centre for peace, nonviolence and human rights
Centre for peace studies
Center for Healthy Growth
CROSOL – Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity
Documenta – Center for dealing with the past
Rainbow Families
Forum for Freedom in Education
Croatian Society for Bird and Nature Protection
Information Legal Center
Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Croatia
Institute for Political Ecology
Human Rights Hose Zagreb
Lesbian organization Rijeka “LORI”
Croatian Youth Network
Civil Rights Project Sisak
Rehabilitation centre for stress and trauma
Community Foundation Slagalica
SOLIDARNA – Foundation for human rights and democracy
S.O.S. Virovitica
Association Biom
Association for Independent Media Culture
Victim and Witness Support Service Croatia
Partner for Healthy Community Development “LET”
Zagreb Pride
Green Action
Green network of activist groups (ZMAG)
Green Osijek
Croatian Women’s Network
Women’s Room – Center for Sexual Rights
Women’s Association „IZVOR“