An ECHR ruling against the Spanish police in a privacy case indicates that the Albanian Socialist Party may have breached citizens’ right to privacy when it compiled a database with voters’ personal information during the 2021 electoral campaign.
On Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Catalonia police has violated the right to privacy of 20 Spanish judges by compiling files with their personal data despite them not being connected to a crime.
In 2014, after several Spanish judges penned a manifesto regarding Catalan independence, newspaper La Razón published personal information and photos about the authors, relying on a police database.
The ECHR ruled that both the publication of this information and the police’s database itself violated Article 8 of the Convention Human Rights. The article, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, also entails “an obligation to actively protect the individual from arbitrary interference with their privacy by the authorities,” according to the Court.
The judges argued that Spanish law does not authorise “the compiling of such reports without some connection to a crime.”
The Court also found that the Spanish state had violated Article 8 by failing to investigate properly the leak of the judges’ information to the press.
Parallels to Albania’s Election Data Leak
While the Court’s decision applies to Spain, the details of the case resemble a massive data leak that touched Albanian citizens in Spring last year. Furthermore, the reasoning detailed by the judges in their ruling indicates that the Albanian government may have breached its citizens’ right to privacy.
In March 2021, one month prior to Albania’s parliamentary elections, an Albanian media portal published details of what it claimed to be a large database that contained the personal information of more than 910,000 voters. This data was allegedly taken from the Civil Registry and provided to the Socialist Party for use in the 2021 electoral campaign.
The database included a wealth of information on voters, including ID number, names, date of birth, employer, voting center, phone number, and whether they were likely to vote for the Socialist Party. Each voter was also assigned a Patron charged with monitoring them.
The Excel spreadsheet was also leaked to the public, circulating across Albania through social media and messaging apps.
While the Special Prosecution against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) launched an investigation into the portal that first published information about the database, no similar investigations were conducted on the PS or other government institutions.
In July 2021, 160 citizens filed a complaint with SPAK for misuse of their personal data, arguing that “it unacceptable that [personal] data is collected, processed, and published illegally for electoral interests,” but it remains unclear whether SPAK has launched an investigation.
The criminal investigation, which focuses on the unauthorised access to computer data, was handed over to the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office and remains in limbo.
Ever since, the Socialist Party has tried to normalize the collection of such data, with Prime Minister Edi Rama praising the so-called “patron system” as key to the PS’s electoral success.
The ECHR’s decision in the Spanish case, however, argues that compiling a database with citizens’ private information without due reason or justification is a violation of privacy.
In addition, the Court ruled that under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (of which Albania is a signatory), the state has an active obligation “to protect the individual from arbitrary interference with their privacy by the authorities.”
Considering the Court’s ruling in the Spanish case, it may be argued that the Socialist Party has failed its citizens on two counts. First, compiling an extensive database may potentially amount to an “arbitrary interference” into Albanian citizens’ privacy by the authorities. And secondly, allowing the database, even by sheer negligence, to be leaked to the press and the public further violated the right to privacy.
The Albanian government has often made light of citizens’ right to privacy. In December 2021, two more database containing personal information such as salaries and license plate numbers, were also leaked online. Rather than urge for an investigation, Prime Minister Rama praised the leak and proposed that salaries be published on an annual basis for the sake of transparency.
The European Court of Human Rights appears to disagree, as does the European Commission which made it clear that personal data protection is a fundamental right in the EU.