August 1, 2008

Serbian Experts Criticize New Internet Surveillance Measures

Text of report by Serbian pro-government broadsheet Politika, on 29 July

[Report by Milan Galovic: "When the BIA Chats"]

Recently, chatting on the internet, talking on Skype (visual and audio communication through the web), or just sending a simple e- mail have become subject to clearly regulated surveillance by the Serbian security services. The Republican Telecommunications Agency [RATEL] has recently adopted the "Technical Conditions for Internet Web Subsystems, Units, Equipment, and Installation," which came into force on July 12.

Internet providers and providers of internet services are required to maintain updated documentation on their users and to allow the "government bodies authorized for electronic surveillance" passive monitoring of internet activities in real time (at any moment), as well as to provide them with user names and the electronic addressees of their clients, IP addresses (the users' address kept by provider), MAC addresses (identification of every PC), and interceptions in "peer-to-peer" networks (control of downloading of musical and video content). In addition, the "Technical Conditions" require that the providers inform the "authorized agencies" about the methods used to protect users' data.

The equipment for these purposes will be placed on the premises of the state agency authorized for electronic surveillance and/or in the special offices inside telecommunications centres, provided and equipped by the public telecommunications operators, the document says.

All the necessary equipment must be installed by the providers at their own expense and each internet provider must select one employee for maintaining contact with the "authorized bodies" and person's selection would be made in agreement with the "state bodies."

"This is a simple technical guide. All over the world, courts are increasingly using evidence gathered from intercepting internet and e-mail, so this sector is being regulated here as well. In reality, the surveillance measures are regulated by law, just like surveillance of other communications, such as wiretapping or checking regular mail. In any case, it is necessary to have a court order for any of these measures, namely an order from an investigative judge or the Supreme Court, depending on the seriousness of a suspected crime. Whenever someone mentions surveillance measures on the public, people immediately think of abuses, which are possible in any of these fields. But the law is clear, the abuse of wiretapping or internet and e-mail intercepts is considered a crime and subject to sanctions," said Milan Skulic, professor of Criminal Law at the Faculty of Law in Belgrade.

Slobodan Markovic, chairman of the Centre for Internet Development and a member of the international internet organization ICANN [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], believes that RATEL took an unnecessarily hasty step by publishing the document, which has caused a real "shock" to providers. Not only because of costly equipment they are required to provide at their own expense, but also for the psychological effect that this would have on their customers, who are under the impression that the providers "are working for the BIA [Security Information Agency] or MUP [Interior Ministry] and because the document does not contain one word about protecting the privacy of citizens who do not have any issues with the law.

"There is no doubt that a need for electronic surveillance exists; everyone knows that the state must fight against internet abuses such as child pornography or terrorism. After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, discussions on this topic started all over the world. But if we did not start a similar debate after assassination of our prime minister, I do not see the reason for such an abrupt decision by RATEL now. I can state with full knowledge that not one of the around 160 internet providers in Serbia has been consulted on the issue. If there had been consultations, panel discussions, or at least a circular letter, we would have found an acceptable solution," Markovic said.

In his view, RATEL's "Technical Conditions" are questionable because they allow a completely autonomous surveillance system to be set up, which can be activated without a provider's knowledge, and because internet providers are required to cover all the costs. In Italy, for example, the state covers the surveillance costs. In Serbia, an acceptable solution could be for the providers to cover the costs of the surveillance and the state the expense of internet traffic analysis. But this was not considered, because there was no discussion on this topic, Markovic explained.

Yesterday, RATEL issued a statement signed by Professor Jovan Radunovic, chairman of the board, saying that the "Technical Conditions" and similar recently adopted documents are regulations defining exclusively technical requirements for the prime provider, while the other providers are not subject to the rules.

But the Telecommunications Law, which is a higher act, stipulates the protection of privacy in its Article 55, Clause 1, saying: "No activities or use of instruments violating or jeopardizing the privacy and secrecy of the messages transmitted via telecommunication networks are allowed except in case of the user's consent or when such activity is undertaken according to the law or a legal court order." The obligations of public telecommunication operators are also defined in Article 54, Clause 5 of the Telecommunications Law: "A public telecommunications operator is required to grant access and data analysis to authorized state bodies, according to the law," and in Clause 2 of the same article: "A public telecommunications operator is required to install, within his system, subsystems, units, equipment, and installations for legally authorized electronic surveillance of certain telecommunications," the RATEL said in a statement, stressing that the "Technical Conditions" were adopted with the exclusive goal of providing protection from terrorism and crime.

Originally published by Politika, Belgrade, in Serbian 29 Jul 08, p8.

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