The public interest strikes a balance between fundamental human rights and freedom of expression/information and privacy. If the public interest prevails over the private interest, data and information may be disclosed, whether they constitute a violation of the privacy rights of an individual or group. This, among other things, was said at the panel “Data Ethics and Anonymization”, on the second day of the International Conference of the Metamorphosis Foundation on “Data and the culture of openness”. The panellists stressed the importance of raising the culture and the obligation of the institutions for transparency and accountability, in order to realize the right of citizens to inform in an appropriate manner, writes

The director of the Agency for Protection of Free Access to Public Information Plamenka Bojčeva spoke about the importance of informing the citizens. As she said, the institutions should proactively publish the data they create and have at their disposal, and they have an obligation to provide information to the citizens for whom they will submit a request.

“The right to free access is a fundamental right and it has first of all the citizens, and then individuals and legal entities from the country and abroad. Free access to information on the one hand makes institutions transparent and accountable to citizens, and on the other hand, provides complete and timely information to citizens that is necessary for their participation in public life. The right of the public to know is at the same time the biggest barrier and tool in the fight against corruption. Corrupt practices and misuse of public resources show that these habits are more developed in the field of secrecy,” Bojčeva said.

The Head of the Sector for Support of the Work of the Director of the State Statistical Office, Slobodan Malevski spoke about the functioning of this institution, which has a large number of data that can be used by citizens, but also institutions and civil society.

“We as an institution prepare a calendar where we place all our publications, research and products. First of all, we publish data through press releases, and publications, less and less in paper formats and more and more on websites. There we have a wide range of information, which is available to the public, in accordance with Eurostat policy and is free. We are pleased that the business community is increasingly looking for the data they need for their activities. The local self-government units are also very important, as they receive from us the data they need, as well as the civil society sector. In addition, the scientific community is looking for data for scientific purposes. The SSO is a maximally open and transparent institution. We try to provide an answer to every information seeker as soon as possible,” Malevski said.

Emilija Ginovska from the Personal Data Protection Agency stressed that freedom of expression and the right to privacy are protected by the Constitution, and the balance between publishing and non-disclosure of information is whether that information is in the public interest.

“The right to privacy is a fundamental right and is protected and guaranteed by the Constitution, but, on the other hand, freedom of expression and information is a right that belongs to everyone. Often these two rights clash. The media are often in a difficult position to report in a balanced way regarding the right to privacy of certain individuals and the right of the public to be informed. In some provisions of the Law on Free Access to Public Information, which refer to the right of personal data subjects and the rights of citizens, the principles of privacy may be excluded if it is necessary to balance the right to freedom of expression and information. This is the case only when the public interest prevails over the interest of personal data subjects,” she explained.

Internet security expert Božidar Spirovski, in a presentation, focused on some aspects of data security, while, as he said, transparency, privacy and confidentiality are the “Mexican standoff of the 21st century.” He stressed that everyone wants transparency and privacy, but as long as it does not concern them personally. According to him, credibility should be restored, because the regulations are mostly non-compliant, the supervisor is differently available to implement punitive measures, while personal awareness and responsibility are relatively low.

“The enforcement of strict rules accompanied by mandatory fines and automatic dismissal/prohibition of activity, for example, Privacy against corrupt activities, a guarantee of anonymity and respect for privacy, including media and portals, to finally abolish the personal identification number,” said Spirovski.

He has two personal recommendations regarding the publication of data: publish the data that you accept to lose and become aware that in all digital channels YOU are the product. The education for the rights and obligations to be continuous and public, as part of the public service.

The Director of Development of the Metamorphosis Foundation, Filip Stojanovski, yesterday at the opening of the Conference, said that the cooperation with USAID in promoting open data will have a similar effect as previous projects in which Metamorphosis and USAID cooperated, as was the case with USAID-supported fact-checking project by 2017.

The International Open Data Conference aims to unite the open data community in order to share and learn, plan and collaborate on the future of open data, with special emphasis on the current situation in North Macedonia and the Western Balkans region.