Czech Big Brother Awards awards worst privacy culprits

A nine-member jury of technology experts, lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists awarded anti-prizes in four categories. The first “prize”, for “Long-Term Snooper”, was won by the Ministry of Health for a series of mistakes in handling personal data during the epidemic. The jury emphasised problems in the legislative work, especially with regards to the proposal that hygienists should be granted access to location data from operators, as well as to the apparent illegal transfer of data on people in quarantine to the Czech police by the Hygiene department, which was ordered by the Ministry. Last but not least, the Ministry also received the award for problems with data leaks, including everything from registration forms for testing and later vaccinations to advertising giants, which were caused by the incorporation of tracking elements of these companies in web registration forms.

Deputies Monika Červíčková and Jiří Mašek (both from the ANO populist party) won the award for the Official Snooper for their proposal to introduce mandatory registration of birth numbers of people buying anonymous SIM cards. The amendment submitted would oblige prepaid SIM card sellers to obtain data from their buyers; birth dates of Czech citizens and, names, birth date and place of foreigners. Sellers would be obliged to pass this data on to operators, who would then pass it on to the police and intelligence services on request.

The “Snooper Company” award was won by the Czech Company Cogniware, that manufactures the Cogniware Insights system. The system includes modules to evaluate evidence using artificial intelligence methods using voice recognition and biometrics to recognise people by face, age or emotion. “The development of such a tracking system, which could affect everybody‘s privacy significantly, considering the company’s approach to who can buy and use this weapon,” said Jan Vobořil.

According to Cogniware, the system being developed is used by intelligence services and the police in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain; all countries that are considered authoritarian regimes according to the Democracy Index. In a publicly available interview, the owner of the company, Ján Račko, stated: “These states have looser rules regarding the protection of personal data, so they use the capabilities of the system for routine tasks.” The company has no control over how and for what purposes its product is being used. As Martin Černý, who is in charge of business relations, stated in the media: “Actually, we don’t even know what our clients use the software for.” The system, described as a weapon by the company’s owner, can be used in any way, including for the suppression of human rights.

In another category, “Big Brother’s Statement 2020”, the prize was awarded to Professor Jaroslav Flegr. In autumn, he suggested that privacy protection should be temporarily limited, and specifically that state authorities should be allowed to use non-anonymised personal location data from mobile phones and banking transactions in response to the pandemic.

We appreciate Professor Flegr’s attempts to raise awareness and fight against the pandemic. Yet the introduction of monitoring tools that Flegr is talking about would not only be invasive in terms of privacy, but also ineffective for democratic European countries, which is why it is unacceptable,” said Vobořil.

The winners of the positive “Edward Snowden Award” for privacy protection in 2020 are the two dissenting opinions of the Constitutional Judge Kateřina Šimáčková on important plenary findings related to privacy protection. In one, Kateřina Šimáčková was the only one to express a differing opinion against the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which considered a proposal to repeal Czech legislation concerning the widespread collection of metadata on electronic communications.

EDRi member Iuridicum Remedium

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