The Ukrainian government has simplified the procedure allowing the special services and police to procure confidential information about citizens. Ukrainian human rights activists and Internet providers believe that the government violated the constitution by legalizing widespread surveillance, giving the secret services almost unlimited access to private information. The government apparently believes that it did nothing but systematize the procedure for obtaining permission to gather information about individuals suspected of illegal activities.
Cabinet resolution No. 1169, “On Setting the Procedure for Obtaining Court Permission to Take Measures That Temporarily Restrict Human Rights and On Using Evidence Obtained Thereby,” stipulates that courts can allow law-enforcement bodies to secretly enter private premises, use special equipment to obtain information, take private information from communication lines, as well as monitor ordinary mail, telephone conversations, and other means of communication, including e-mail. Opponents of the decree say that the special services from now on will not have to bother about court permission, because it should be sufficient for them to obtain permission for eavesdropping personally from the chairman of a regional court of appeals.
Resolution No. 1169 was quietly issued on September 26. Ukrainians were going to vote in an early parliamentary election on September 30, so the resolution passed unnoticed by the mass media. Internet providers were the first to ring the alarm bell over the perceived threat to personal freedoms. The daily Segodnya said that one Internet provider was visited by Security Service (SBU) people who insisted that, based on resolution No. 1169, the company had to allow them access to the e-mail box of one political party. The SBU reportedly said that it had obtained the necessary permission from one regional court.
The Internet Association of Ukraine, which represents the interests of tens of IT and telecom companies, has urged the Cabinet to withdraw resolution No. 1169 as soon as possible. The Association’s chairwoman, Tetyana Popova, said the resolution violated the constitution and the principle of supremacy of law. The Association has sent letters to the Justice Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Supreme Court, and President Viktor Yushchenko, urging them to intervene.
Ekonomichna pravda quoted Svyatoslav Oliynyik, who chaired the outgoing parliament’s subcommittee for monitoring law-enforcement bodies, as saying that Resolution No. 1169 is legally nonsensical, as it grants the secret services greater access to private information than the constitution permits. He also noted that the resolution does not clearly specify which state bodies are entitled to obtain such information, so in theory any official could try and get it.
Volodymyr Yavorsky, the executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, noted that citizens may not appeal against Resolution No. 1169 in court. This is because only the Constitutional Court is entitled to rule on Cabinet resolutions, and laymen cannot appeal to that court. He said the Helsinki Union would ask Yushchenko to suspend the resolution and to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court.
Yavorsky, however, noted that Resolution No. 1169 is nothing new as far as the Internet is concerned. The Resolution apparently only restored powers to special services that they had had until 2006, when the Justice Ministry cancelled the Communications Committee’s special order under which communication operators had been obliged to give confidential information about clients to special services. Human rights expert Viktor Chevhuz told Segodnya that the real novelty is that the special services are now allowed to secretly enter private premises. “In the past, the law on search and data collection did not allow operatives to secretly enter living premises or offices. Now they [have] obtained this right,” said Chevhuz.
The Helsinki Union told Ukrayinska pravda that about 40,000 writs to access private information were issued in Ukraine in 2004 alone, compared with some 3,000 such writs issued in the United States that year. Ukrayinska pravda suggested that such a disproportionate number of permissions was issued in Ukraine not to catch potential terrorists or watch opposition politicians, but rather to spy on business rivals. “The state here needs the special services not to execute control over citizens, but first of all to help the feudal-industrial clans fight each other,” Ukrayinska pravda summed up.
Acting Interior Minister Mykhaylo Kornienko, however, thinks that Resolution No. 1169 is nothing special. He told Segodnya that the resolution only systematized the procedures that existed before. “We [the police], the SBU, the Border Service, and other agencies involved in investigation each had our own internal instructions on this. The Cabinet Resolution established a common procedure,” he said. “It is not aimed at eavesdropping on everybody or total spying. It is stupid and provocative to claim that!” he declared.
(Korrespondent.net, October 26; Ekonomichna pravda, October 31; Ukrayinska pravda, Segodnya, November 2; Zerkalo nedeli, November 3)