Police access to the names of SIM-card owners

Yevhen Zakharov

  The State Administration for Special Communications and Protection of Information [SASCPI] has drawn up a draft law on amendments to the Law on Telecommunications introducing sale of SIM-cards according to an agreement between the user and the operator. The agreement would be drawn up on the basis of the user’s internal passport or other ID. The government would be responsible for determining the details for the procedure behind these amendments. All of this is being done in order to improve police efficiency by providing them with information about telecommunications users.

Police plans

SASCPI claims that the draft law “mainly envisages systemizing norms regulating the provision of information at various stages and the regime for access to data with different legal status, as well as ensuring efficiency in receiving information”. However in fact the draft law states firstly that “procedure for provision of information about a telecommunications user and the telecommunications services provided is stipulated by the Cabinet of Ministers”. Secondly, “telecommunications operators and providers are obliged to provide the law enforcement agencies with information about telecommunications users and the telecommunications services provided on the scale and manner stipulated by the Cabinet of Ministers. And thirdly, the “provision of telecommunications services with the use of identification telecommunications cards is carried out on the basis of an agreement between the operator and the user of such services according to procedure stipulated by the Cabinet of Ministers”.

The SIM-card number registered in a person’s name is added to their personal data. Personal data is, from the point of view of access, confidential information, and the gathering, storage, use and circulation of confidential information without a person’s consent is prohibited by Article 32 of the Constitution, except in cases stipulated by law. This means that only a law may regulate this procedure, not a Cabinet of Ministers resolution, and in this respect the draft law is clearly in breach of the Constitution.

If we recall the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register, passed on 2 October, which effectively introduces a single universal ID code, the plans of the law enforcement bodies become pretty clear. This register will contain information about ones parents; details about documents issued to the person; an encrypted sample of the person’s signature; an encrypted image of his or her face; additional changing information (about place of registration; family status; issue of privatization papers etc); as well as information from department information systems and other data. This “other” data will doubtless include SIM-card numbers registered in the person’s name.

After the law comes into force it will be impossible to buy a SIM-card without an agreement with a telecommunications operator, and the operators will be obliged to regularly provide the law enforcement bodies with personal databases of uses together with their SIM-cards.

Police state

If this procedure is the same (and no other is considered!) then this constitutes a flagrant infringement of the right to privacy. All SIM-card owners fall within the framework in terms of status of potential criminals. This is extremely similar to the proposals from the Interior Ministry still under debate – to add full name, date of birth, serial and number of ID to railway tickets with the noble purpose of searching for criminals. Such an approach just as automatically gives any user of Ukrainian Railways the status of a person suspected of having committed a crime. A state which introduces such procedure is throughout the world called a police state.

Under such an approach identification of a SIM-card user will be automatic. Knowing the name of a mobile telephone owner, the police can easily get to their electronic address and accounts in social networks.

Yet will this help to find people about whom information has been received that they are planning to commit a crime? Russian experience shows that SIM-cards are registered to fictitious individuals and then resold on a black market of cards which appeared very rapidly in Russia.

Operators are disgruntled with this new development. People living in small towns and village settlements will, in order to obtain a SIM-card, have to travel to regional centres since only they have the providers’ shops. It is not clear how the mobile operators will register all the tens of millions of users who already have SIM-cards. Will they simply block the cards and thus force people to come and register?

How it should be

We must acknowledge that the police do need to have access to mobile telephone users’ databases to investigate or prevent a crime, and therefore registration of users is needed. It is carried out in most countries. However these databases need to be stored by the telecommunications operators, contain a minimal amount of data. They should be securely stored, not passed to anyone and provided only to the people themselves or, on the basis of a request from the authorities (for example, police) regarding specific numbers in the manner stipulated by law.

The law should envisage registration of such requests, as well as reporting from the law enforcement agencies on how the information received was used; how many crimes were prevented as a result; how many solved, etc. However are the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies capable of accepting rules which apply in the civilized world?

Yevhen Zakharov is the Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group

The views expressed in Point of view are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the position of Radio Svoboda

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