Ministry of Interior Blocks ZdG Access to Information on Criminal Cases of Moldovan Party Leaders Invoking Personal Data Protection
ZdG cannot obtain information about possible criminal cases involving chairmen, deputy chairmen, and general secretaries of several political parties, registered in the electoral race for the early parliamentary elections of July 11, this year.
The General Prosecutor’s Office, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, and the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime passed their competencies to the Ministry of Interior, indicating that they do not provide information from the Integrated Information System for Crimes. The Ministry refused to provide ZdG with information of public interest, invoking the personal data protection law and the fact that we did not state the purpose and the way of processing the personal data of those concerned.
However, experts in media and personal data legislation argue that the refusal of the authorities to provide data is not justified and the legislation on the protection of personal data is misinterpreted. “It is disqualifying for a ministry to try to look for all kinds of justifications to put barriers in access to information of public interest,” the experts conclude.
On May 13, ZdG submitted official requests to the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime, and the Ministry of Interior requesting information on possible criminal trials or cases involving 96 people: chairmen, deputy chairmen and general secretaries of several political parties registered in the electoral race for the early parliamentary elections of July 11 this year. We asked to find out the status of the person in the case, the accusations brought against him, when the trial was initiated and the status of the case. A few days after sending the requests, Serghei Gavajuc, the Interim Head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, recommended us to contact the Ministry of Interior – the holder of the data bank on criminal cases and persons who have committed crimes. Subsequently, on May 17 and 20, respectively, Ion Caracuian, Chief Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime, and Veaceslav Soltan, General Prosecutor’s Office representative, notified us about the decline of powers to the Ministry of Interior.
The Ministry of Interior’s refuses to provide us with information about the criminal cases of the party leaders
On May 28, Sergiu Strungaru, a Ministry of Interior representative, sent a reply refusing to provide us with information arguing that it is personal data. Moreover, motivated their refusal by the fact that we did not motivate the purpose and the way of using the personal data of those concerned, we did not mention the “causal link between the objective pursued” and did not indicate where these data will be processed.
The Ministry of Interior representative refers to the law on the protection of personal data, which does not offer the possibility for the media to process that special category of data. In reality, the same law that the provisions do not apply to the processing of personal data for purely journalistic purposes. The institution also recommended that we make a “fundamental distinction” between politicians in official positions and those who do not hold such positions.
Independent Press Association Director: It is disqualifying for a ministry to try to seek all sorts of justifications to put barriers in access to information of public interest
However, experts in media and personal data legislation argue that the refusal of the authorities to provide data is not justified, the legislation on personal data protection is misinterpreted and is “disqualifying” the way the Ministry of Interior tries to seek all sorts of justifications for restricting journalists’ access to information of public interest.
“The attitude of the Ministry is inexplicable, especially since it is not about interfering in the private life of some private persons. These are party leaders, people who aspire to public office. It is an absolute misinterpretation of the legislation on the protection of personal data, used as a barrier to not provide society with absolutely relevant information so that people can make a conscious choice based on who are the candidates for the position of deputy. This is where the public interest is, and the fact that the Ministry is trying to hide such information seems to me disqualifying”, commented Petru Macovei, director of the Independent Press Association.
Expert in media law: Urge addressed to the ZdG to make a “fundamental distinction” between politicians and people who do not hold such positions is difficult to understand.
Lawyer Tatiana Puiu, an expert in media law, also considers that the authorities’ refusal to provide data for ZdG is not justified.
“Just because the requested data is personal data is not enough to refuse to disclose it. Since the media has the task to inform about matters of public interest and the people concerned are candidates in parliamentary elections, the urge addressed to the ZdG to make a “fundamental distinction” between politicians and people who do not hold such positions is difficult to understand. The data requested by the ZdG are closely related to the quality of public person concerned, as well as to the public character of the facts in which they are involved”, says Puiu.
Lawyer: The answers of the specialized prosecutor’s offices are incomplete
Sergiu Bozianu, lawyer and specialist in personal data law, Chair of the Association for the Protection of Privacy, states that “the answers of the specialized prosecutors, which declined their powers to the Ministry of Interior, are incomplete and that in case of appeal in the court, there are all the prerequisites to be annulled”. Bozianu says that the Ministry of Interior representative who refused to provide us the information did not take into account the provisions of the law on the protection of personal data as the processing of personal data is done purely for journalistic purposes.
“Moreover, the people on the list are public figures, and the information requested is closely related to their ability to be worthy of the public office they opt for,” explained Bozianu.
ZdG processes personal data
On June 1 ZdG made again an official request to the Ministry of Interior on this subject, ensuring the rectification of the claims invoked in the first refusal. The ZdG will come back later with information about this case.