27 March, 2020
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COVID-19 and personal data – are you protected?

An increasingly relevant issue in the COVID-19 pandemic era concerns the right to privacy and protection of personal data. A question often raised is – should personal information of individuals infected by the virus be made publicly available, or should it be swept under the rug?

While some have argued in favor of publication, claiming it would allow citizens to better protect themselves, others have strongly been against it, arguing that it would lead to stigmatization and discrimination. And yet some countries, like Bosnia and Herzegovina (“BH”), seem to have taken the middle-ground approach, where the degree of protection of personal data depends entirely on the citizen’s own conduct.

What exactly does this mean?

 

Full protection for model citizens only

Prompted by several instances of local authorities publishing names and places of residence of citizens ordered into quarantine or self-isolation due to COVID-19, the Personal Data Protection Agency (“PDPA”) had to intervene promptly.

On March 24, 2020 it issued the Decision on the legality of such publication practices, making one thing crystal clear: all authorities, whether on state, entity, cantonal or local level, are prohibited from publishing personal data of citizens who had tested positive for COVID-19 and were placed in quarantine or self-isolation. Any personal data that was made publicly available prior to the Decision needs to be removed and blocked immediately.

Although the Decision does not expressly state it, this full protection of personal data is extended only to citizens who respect the state-ordered quarantine or self-isolation.

So, what happens to citizens who do not obey orders?

 

The “witch-hunt” against non-compliant citizens

Somewhat surprisingly, citizens who disobey state decrees ordering them into quarantine or self-isolation are not entitled to protection of their personal data.

This is the view expressed by the PDPA in its statement from March 23, 2020. The PDPA indicated, in no uncertain terms, that publishing basic information about non-compliant citizens is in the public interest because of the fact that these individuals are breaking the law and the measures introduced to prevent the loss of life. Thus, they may not cry foul and demand protection of their personal data.

Although this position may come across as legitimizing a “witch-hunt” against non-compliant citizens, it nevertheless falls perfectly in line with the conduct of authorities of both the Republic of Srpska (“RS”) and the Federation of BH (“FBH”)

For instance, the RS Emergency Situations Office (“ESO”) has mandated, as of March 22, 2020, the publication of names and places of residence of people who had disrespected isolation and self-isolation measures. Such persons will then place under supervised quarantine in facilities set up by local municipalities and their names will be published on the website of the Ministry of Administration and Local Self-Government.

Similarly, the Federal Inspection Administration (“FIA”) has been publishing names and places of residence of non-compliant citizens on its website since March 23, 2020. Yet, it is unclear on which grounds the FIA published the names, given that it was only on March 24, 2020 that the FBH Government published the instruction to the Federal Civil Protection Office to issue an appropriate decree allowing publications.

 

For more information, please contact us via covid19@geciclaw.com