ECHR ruling in privacy case shows similarities to massive data leak in Albania – Release

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An ECHR ruling against Spanish police in a privacy case says the Albanian Socialist Party may have violated citizens’ right to privacy when it compiled a database containing voters’ personal information during the 2021 election campaign.

The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday found that police in Catalonia violated the privacy rights of 20 Spanish judges by compiling files with their personal data when they were not linked to a crime .

In 2014, after several Spanish judges drafted a manifesto on Catalan independence, the newspaper La Razón published personal details and photos of the perpetrators, drawing on a police database.

The ECHR ruled that both the publication of this information and the police database itself violated Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights. The article, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, also includes “an obligation to actively protect the individual against arbitrary interference with his private life by the authorities”, according to the Court.

The judges argued that Spanish law does not allow “the compilation of such reports unrelated to a crime”.

The Court also found that the Spanish state violated Article 8 by failing to properly investigate the judges’ leak of information to the press.

Parallels to Election Data Leak in Albania

Although the court’s ruling applies to Spain, the details of the case resemble a massive data breach that affected Albanian citizens in the spring of last year. Furthermore, the detailed reasoning by the judges in their decision indicates that the Albanian government may have violated the privacy rights of its citizens.

In March 2021, a month before the Albanian parliamentary elections, an Albanian media portal published details of what it claimed was a large database containing the personal details of over 910,000 voters. This data would have been extracted from the civil register and provided to the Socialist Party for use in the 2021 election campaign.

The database included a wealth of voter information, including ID number, names, date of birth, employer, polling center, phone number and whether they were likely to vote. vote for the Socialist Party. Each voter was also assigned a Patron to watch over him.

The Excel spreadsheet was also leaked to the public, circulating throughout Albania via social media and messaging apps.

While the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) has launched an investigation into the portal which published information about the database for the first time, no similar investigation has been carried out into the PS or d other government institutions.

In July 2021, 160 citizens filed a complaint with SPAK for misuse of their personal data, arguing that “it is unacceptable that [personal] the data is collected, processed and published illegally for electoral interests”, but it remains unclear whether SPAK has opened an investigation.

The criminal investigation, which relates to unauthorized access to computer data, has been entrusted to the Tirana public prosecutor’s office and remains in limbo.

Since then, the Socialist Party has tried to standardize the collection of such data, with Prime Minister Edi Rama praising the so-called “boss system” as key to the PS’s electoral success.

The ECHR ruling in the Spanish case, however, argues that compiling a database with citizens’ private information without reason or justification is a violation of privacy.

Furthermore, the Court held that under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (to which Albania is a signatory), the state has an active obligation “to protect the individual against any arbitrary interference with his private life by the authorities”.

Given the Court’s decision in the Spanish case, it can be argued that the Socialist Party has failed its citizens in two respects. First, the building of a large database has the potential to constitute “arbitrary interference” with the privacy of Albanian citizens by the authorities. And second, allowing the database, even through sheer negligence, to be disclosed to the press and the public further violated the right to privacy.

The Albanian government has often disregarded citizens’ right to privacy. In December 2021, two other databases containing personal information such as salaries and license plate numbers were also leaked online. Rather than calling for an investigation, Prime Minister Rama welcomed the leak and proposed that salaries be published on an annual basis for the sake of transparency.

The European Court of Human Rights seems to disagree, as does the European Commission which has made it clear that the protection of personal data is a fundamental right in the EU.

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