New Romanian Internet privacy law called tyranny by American free software guru

Michael Bird

Draft law threatening phone and web privacy under attack

Romania’s tough new draft law endangering the privacy of communicating via telephone and the Internet has been labelled “tyranny” by Richard Stallman, American founder of the Free Software Foundation.

The EU country is proposing a law requiring users to register their identification numbers for Pre-Pay mobile phone cards.

Providers of free public WiFi hotspots will also have to “identify” their users, under the law.

A fierce defender of online privacy, Stallman called the new law “tyranny” in answer to a question at the Bucharest Coliberator conference in Bucharest on 7 June.

He added that people should defy the law by running their own WiFi networks that don’t require registration.

The Government did not submit the draft law to civil society nor the industry, in a move sure to incense privacy advocates.

The law would also force Romania’s 12 million users of pre-pay phone to register their number with an ID in the next six months or face disconnection.

At present, the details of the legal change are fuzzy.

It states any provider of a WiFi network in, say, a cafe, hotel, park or university, will have to “identify” its users and store the information for up to six months.

This could mean that a user of a WiFi hotspot while drinking a coffee or sitting on a bench will have to register with an ID or Passport.

This is accompanied by a new draft law on Cybersecurity, will make communications data on phone and Internet users available to nine Government agencies, including the secret services.

The push to introduce both laws shows a tightening of privacy on communication at the same time as a widening of surveillance capabilities by state bodies.

“These laws show the true face of our Government’s desire for digital Romania,” says Bogdan Manolea, legal communications expert and executive director of the Association for Technology and the Internet. “A virtual space where a user of any communication device has to supply their personal data and where this data will be accessible directly, without a warrant, by all secret and non-secret services.”

The justification for the law on pre-pay cards is that it eliminates a channel which terrorists or criminals could use to communicate. It makes surveillance of such targets easier.

However such criminals would be wise to the law and would use false or stolen cards or an intermediary.

They could also, writes Manolea, use encryption services which prevent anyone accessing the call.

This hurdle could be “even worse” for prosecutors and the intelligence community, he says.

The new law will also be a headache for any providers of public WiFi.

For example, Starbucks, the Hilton Hotel and McDonald’s may be obliged to store private data regarding their customers’ communication history.

Therefore the Golden Arches will be acting as a ‘data center’ for the Romanian secret service and its allies.