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Publication of Lists of Conscripts Prohibited

Source: HRO.org (info), 13/09/12

· Freedom of speech  · St. Petersburg & Leningrad region

The Federal Communications Agency has announced that it has issued a written warning to Gatchinskaya Pravda, a newspaper, for publishing a list of conscripts together with their personal data. The Agency found the publication to constitute disclosure of a state secret.

Gatchinskaya pravda published the list of conscripts on 27 July 2012. Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg says that it was done at the request of the Gatchinskaya department of the Military Recruitment Office of Leningrad region. The published information included the full names of the conscripts, as well as their dates of birth. According to Russian law this information is personal and subject to privacy law.

The rights defenders approached the Federal Communications Agency and claimed there had been an infringement of the federal law on personal data. “The branch of the Agency for St Petersburg and Leningrad region found that the publication was in breach of the federal law on personal data and referred the materials to the Prosecutor’s Office as an administrative offence,” says Soldiers Mothers of St Petersburg. The human rights defenders have published a copy of the Agency’s reply on their website.

The Federal Communications Agency, which issued the official warning to the newspaper and in effect took the side of the human rights defenders, in accordance with the above-mentioned federal law is empowered to protect personal data. The Agency has a significant record of combating publications of this sort of information in the Internet. The Agency itself says it has closed dozens of websites which illegally stored and processed personal data. According to these statistics, the registrars of domain names often act upon requests by the Agency and stop delegating domains without waiting for a court decision.

If the closure of the majority of (not very well-known) websites did not draw attention, the appearance of the websites LiveJournal and Youtube in the summer of 2012 caused a real frenzy on the Internet. A number of net commentators and bloggers took the Agency’s initiative as a demand to close the popular blogging platform and the biggest archive of video materials. The Agency issued an explanation: it was only demanding the removal of specific personal data. There was no intention to close the sites or to limit access to them.

Another story that attracted public interest is connected with the intention of the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs to publish personal data of debtors, especially those who notoriously avoid paying housing charges. Efforts of this kind have already been made but were ruled to be illegal. The Federal Service of Court Bailiffs appealed to the Federal Communications Agency. In a reply dated 15/06/2012 the Agency almost quoted the legislation on Personal Data word for word: “the processing of biometric personal data can be carried out without the subject’s consent...where this concerns justice and the implementation of court decisions.” The Court Bailiffs interpreted this response as being in their favour. A number of media sources took it as a permission to publish photographs of debtors at any time the Court Bailiffs considered it necessary. Responding to the tide of such publications that followed, the Federal Communications Agency was even obliged to issue a clarification: “The right in question applies to the activity of court bailiffs strictly within the framework of the enforcement of court judgments. The circulation of individuals’ personal data by court bailiffs in any other cases is unlawful.”         
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