Single database of personal data — bureaucratic relief or a path to 'digital concentration camp'?

What is the threat of creating a unified federal information register: expert comments

The creation of a single database of personal data of Russians threatens the security of citizens, contradicts the Constitution and a number of federal laws, says Karina Gorbacheva, a political analyst and columnist for Realnoe Vremya. While the COVID-19 pandemic was in progress in Russia, and people were living in self-isolation, State Duma deputies, discussing anti-coronavirus measures, unexpectedly returned to the draft law on the unified information register (EFIR) and supported it. However, the document has yet to pass the third reading. In today's author's column, Gorbacheva tells the story of the issue and explains what consequences this law may have.

On April 17, the State Duma of Russia considered draft law No. 759897-7 'On the unified federal information register containing information about the population of the Russian Federation' in the second reading. According to this legislative innovation, it is planned to create a single database, which will collect information from all other databases that the state has. According to the authors of the draft bill, the unified information register will reduce the time for citizens to receive public services. The bill was hastily considered and almost unanimously approved. Apparently, the deputies believe that its adoption is urgent. Let's try to find out what is hidden behind this draft bill and whether it is so urgent to pass it.

The history of the draft bill

Initially, the draft in the original version signed by Dmitry Medvedev was submitted to the State Duma by the government on July 23, 2019. The explanatory note to the document indicated that its development is provided for by the presidential decree of 2016 'On additional measures to strengthen payment discipline in settlements with the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation, Social Insurance Fund of the Russian Federation and the Federal Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund', part 4 of article 13 of Federal law No. 152-FZ 'On personal data' and the action plan for the formation and maintenance of the single federal information resource containing information about the population of Russia, approved by the government order as early as in 2017.

On September 17, 2019, the first consideration of the draft bill was held at the parliamentary assembly. Before the vote, the essence and necessity of the draft bill and possible risks had been actively discussed. But the document was still approved, including by deputies who expressed doubts about its necessity.

Meanwhile, a debate then ensued, during which lawyers spoke about the inconsistency of this draft bill with the Constitution, current laws and presidential decrees. Public figures even cited the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, adopted by the Council of bishops in 2013, on the inadmissibility of forcing citizens to use electronic identifiers, automated means of collecting, processing and recording personal data and personal confidential information. Among those who were skeptical of the innovation, the draft bill was expected to be considered in the same autumn, but apparently due to active disapproval among the population, the bill was postponed.

They suddenly remembered it with the onset of spring, namely the period of spread of the new coronavirus infection COVID-19. While the country and the media were discussing the introduction of restrictive measures, the State Duma considered a package of documents that were to be adopted in connection with anti-coronavirus measures. Among various draft bills, there also was the draft bill on the unified information register. What exactly it has to do with anti-epidemic measures and whether it has at all was not explained. However, they were so rushing to pas the bill that it did not have the discussions prescribed by the regulations.

Besides, the text of the draft bill was posted on the website of the State Duma in the evening, on the eve of the day of consideration. Some believe that the deputies simply could not have time to get acquainted with the amendments, for which the next day they unanimously voted in favour. At the same time, the volume of changes, according to Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies and Communications Alexander Khinshtein, amounted to about a third of the entire document.

Meanwhile, the attempt to start a discussion about the proposed innovations at the State Duma meeting was started by Deputy of United Russia from Bashkiria Inga Yumasheva. She said that this is an extremely important issue and it has angered many people in our country. However, the speaker of the lower house of the parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, interrupted her speech, referring to the regulations. According to the procedure, in the second reading, objections of deputies on amendments to the bill are heard before voting. Unfortunately, although Yumasheva took the floor, she did so only after the vote.

Do we provide our data voluntarily or forcibly?

What does the draft bill on creating a single data register mean and doesn't it duplicate existing mechanisms for collecting information about citizens? Today, the country has the Federal law № 152 'On personal data', which allows citizens to voluntarily give their personal information to state agencies for collection, processing and other purposes. However, the transfer of other people's data is prohibited. The forced collection of information, as well as the processing of data for the sake of processing, is also prohibited. The new bill assumes a fundamentally different attitude to personal data. The information is proposed to be collected forcibly in order to “create a system for recording information about the population, ensuring their relevance”. Besides, the draft bill provides for collecting information not only about the individual, but also about their relatives. Lawyers note that collecting data for accounting purposes violates the law. As stated in the resolution of the constitutional court of the Russian Federation dated 22 June, 2010 No. 14-P, “the goals of a rational organization of the activities of government bodies alone cannot serve as a basis for restricting rights and freedoms”.

However, this is not the only point that raises concerns. According to article 5 of Federal law 152 'On personal data', “it is not allowed to combine databases containing personal data that are processed for purposes incompatible with each other”. But the draft bill assumes that heterogeneous information is collected in one information base. It is also noteworthy that, according to part 11 of article 8 of the draft law, records and information from the Unified population register “are subject to permanent storage, their removal and destruction is not allowed”. Although, according to part 1 of article 24 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, “the collection, storage, use and dissemination of information about the private life of a person without his consent is prohibited”, so every citizen has the right to withdraw their personal data from any agencies.

The opponents of this bill have other questions about the content of the proposed document. For example, why do they want to deprive a person of the right to choose the form of receiving public services? After all, according to the changes made to the second reading, it will be impossible to receive state and municipal services in non-electronic form. These and other objections are put in writing by opponents to State Duma deputies and require them to refrain from approving the bill in the third reading. Besides, according to the regulations, there is a mechanism for returning consideration of the draft bill to the second reading procedure. If the majority of deputies make such a demand, the presiding officer will be obliged to put the matter to a vote.

Digital concentration camps?

While the Russian world is discussing restrictions on movement, electronic passes and masks, and wondering whether there would be a parade on Victory Day, the deputies allowed themselves to approve the draft bill that the society did not even have time to evaluate. But some did pay attention to it. For example, the head of one of the central municipal districts of Moscow, Yakov Yakubovich, in the article “The state wants to know everything about you” noted that “everyone who will fight their way into life with their mind, talent, and principles will automatically fall under the sword of Damocles called EFIR” (Unified Federal Information Register).

At the moment, the draft bill is being in the third stage of consideration, but the date of the third reading has not yet been determined. Someone is waiting for the introduction of such law, believing that it will simplify life in bureaucratic terms. Others are afraid that, by analogy with the second reading, consideration of the bill may be scheduled suddenly, the day before, and the law will be adopted in the same way, without any discussion. But even more people fear that this bill will lead to a loss of security. After all, as practice shows, the more data people transmit to any structures, the greater the risk that this data can be stolen or sold, as happened last autumn with the personal data of customers of the seemingly reliable Sberbank.

“Draft bills that require identification of citizens through a numbered identifier are criminal, detract from human dignity, and violate the inalienable human right to a name," the Public Commissioner for Family Rights notes. The Public Commissioner for Family Rights also reminds that at the Nuremberg trials, the International Military Tribunal recognized the practice of assigning numbers to people as a crime against humanity, without a statute of limitations. Meanwhile, the point about creating a single record for information about each individual is one of the main points in this bill.

By Karina Gorbacheva