Bulgarian police now have unlimited access to everyone’s network traffic metadata

The measure is one of many passed under the state of emergency due to COVID-19

Bulgarian police now have unlimited access to everyone’s network traffic metadata

One disturbing measure of the bundle of many, which Parliament passed this Tuesday in the package of special laws under the state of emergency got through undetected during the debates.

President Roumen Radev vetoed some of the legislation after Parliament first approved them. He returned two texts: a measure mandating price freezing of goods and services, one highly penal measure against false information distribution, which gave practically no explanation as to what false information means.

The veto got just about as many votes in favor – that is, against the legislation - as it did approvals when MPs voted to pass the bill not three days earlier.

The measure, which has now granted the police unlimited and unaccountable access to network traffic metadata received public attention after the fact. It went into force on Tuesday, March 25.  

According the new law, officers could request telecommunication companies to provide traffic metadata of clients who are under mandatory quarantine and whom authorities suspect are violating it. The problem is, there is no way to establish whether a person is under quarantine or not. The companies cannot check of any person’s quarantine status, as no one is keeping a list of all quarantined people. Nor does the law requires for authorities to account for such a circumstance to the companies or to another authority. In essence there is nothing in the regulation necessitating any document or proof that the person, whose data will be accessed, is violating quarantine, another – or any – law, or is indeed under quarantine at all.

The request also mandates a response: the companies may not refuse to hand over the information, nor does it need to be approved by a judge. For comparison, under ‘normal’ circumstances, traffic data could only be requested via court order. Moreover, not all alleged crime investigations could ask the court for such an order either: only crimes, which meet a certain severity criterion could even ask to gain access to such information about a suspect.

Law experts and human rights lawyers and activists have criticized the measure harshly, calling it a severe invasion of personal privacy and marking it as high risk for abuse. Experts have also expressed concern that the law may very well survive after the state of emergency is revoked.

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