Privacy International and Metamorphosis have today written to authorities in Macedonia to provide information regarding government surveillance in Macedonia and call for assurances on protection of privacy and introduction of abuse-preventing mechanisms on the part of the state institutions.
For over two years, Macedonia has endured a prolonged and severe political crisis – including wide scale protests and acts of violence against parliamentarians – following reports that the governing party had been unlawfully intercepting the phone calls of some 20,000 people, including, activists, journalists, judges, diplomats, opposition leaders, and even members of the government itself.
Activists and journalists who had received recordings of their private phone conversations recounted to Privacy International how their lives had been impacted, their work undermined, and their networks and sources put at risk. Our report analysed how the intelligence agency’s “direct access” to the telecommunications network – facilitated by telecommunications operators and surveillance companies – had led to the wiretapping.
“Direct access” is particularly prone to abuse; broadly, it describes situations where security agencies have a direct connection to telecommunications networks to obtain digital communications content and data, often without prior notice or judicial authorisation and without the involvement and knowledge of the network operator.
Following the revelations in Macedonia, an agreement between the political parties brokered by the EU led to the dissolution of the government, and new elections, finally resulting in a new coalition government in May 2017. In its 2017-2020 Work Programme, the new government has made explicit commitments to introduce new mechanisms to improve the internal and external control of the work of the police and security services, and to introduce new protections against arbitrary surveillance.
As a result, Privacy International and Metamorphosis are sending Macedonian oversight and government bodies a briefing on “direct access”, and are calling on the authorities to answer whether they will implement reforms and introduce urgent protections against it.
The letter has been sent to the President of the Government of Republic of Macedonia, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Macedonia, and the Committee for Supervising the Work of the Security and Counter Intelligence Directorate and the Intelligence Agency. A copy of the letter has also been sent to the Delegation of the EU and to DG Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission, which play an influential role in Macedonia – an official candidate country for accession to the European Union.