Privacy of Marginalized Groups in Serbia Not Adequately Protected

Partners Serbia, together with 5 civil society organizations organized their annual Privacy Week event, from 24 to 27 January 2022, which covered a variety of topics related to protection of privacy in different areas. One of the Privacy Week panels was dedicated to discrimination as a consequence of violation of privacy of sensitive social groups, such as women, children, Roma population, socially deprived persons, LGBTQ+ persons etc.

This panel included representatives of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Council of Europe and three Serbian civil society organizations which are providing support to vulnerable social groups – A11 Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, Association Da se zna and Belgrade Centre for Human Rights.  

Representatives of civil society used this event to present some of the most flagrant cases of privacy violations that the members of vulnerable groups are facing. During the panel, it was pointed out that some groups (such as HIV positive persons, members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as victims of sexual violence, especially minors) are very often victims of discrimination as well. The panelists also referred to the privacy violations that trans people in the process of changing personal documents are subject to. Members of the Roma population are also often victims of privacy violations. They sometimes do not understand that privacy is their inalienable right, but view it as a privilege, due to the very poor treatment they are subjected to, in addition to all other existential problems which they face. It was also pointed out that members of the Roma population often do not fight for the protection of their right to privacy for fear that they will lose some other rights such as housing, welfare etc. The panel was also used to present the privacy violations that the refugees and asylum seekers are subject to at the asylum and reception centres. It is also important to state that the financial costs of using legal protection often represent an additional limitation for members of vulnerable groups in the process of protecting their privacy. Because of that, most of them do not initiate any legal procedures to protect their privacy, which further perpetuates the culture of inpunity when privacy violations occur.

During the panel, it was also stated that members of vulnerable groups are generally inadequately informed about their right to privacy and the ways in which they can exercise and protect those rights. Legal aid is also rarely an adequate means of protection due to the costs it entails, but also due to the long duration of the proceedings. When the violations of privacy take place online, they are even more difficult to detect and more challenging to address through legal mechanisms.

The panelists also pointed out that Serbia has the legal framework for preventing discrimination and protection of privacy of members of vulnerable groups, which is not ideal, but is slowly changing for the better. However, the burning issue is still the poor implementation of these mechanisms, as well as the inadequate treatment of representatives of marginalized groups by the relevant institutions. The need to adopt a new Strategy for the Protection of Privacy which would ensure that the existing Law on Personal Data Protection is properly implemented and that the vulnerable groups have the necessary legal mechanisms at their disposal when their privacy is being violated was also discussed.

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