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Spread of biometric devices spark fears over surveillance in Serbia, Kosovo

Categories Biometrics News  |  Surveillance
Spread of biometric devices spark fears over surveillance in Serbia, Kosovo
 

Serbian authorities have been building up their arsenal of drones equipped with advanced capabilities, including those that allow biometric data gathering, prompting experts to sound the alarm over privacy and surveillance.

According to public procurement data gathered by BIRN, Serbia’s Ministry of the Interior has been acquiring powerful unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from Chinese manufacturers DJI and Yuneec and Romanian company Hirrus. Some of the models are equipped with high-quality video recording and powerful zooms that can be used to record faces from great distances.

Although Serbian law prohibits the use of biometric systems for public surveillance, some experts are warning of the potential for abuse. Former Commissioner for Personal Data Protection Rodoljub Sabic told BIRN that police drones with advanced capabilities could be used for covert tracking.

“Especially in the absence of precise instructions on the use of these features and any oversight, it is possible to track not only criminals but also political opponents, people from the civil sector, critically inclined journalists, and the like,” says Sabic.

Drone use is governed by the Regulation on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, but this regulation does not apply to the police, army or customs enforcement. Serbian authorities have used drones to record civil protests in the past.

The country has also attempted to legalize biometric data gathering in public areas through amendments but the proposal was dropped after public pressure in late 2022.

Experts such as Svetlana Stanarevic, a professor at the Faculty of Security in Belgrade have also warned that drones gather vast amounts of data with no clear regulation on how it’s stored.

Kosovo stores selling biometric scanners despite restrictions

Retailers in Kosovo are selling biometric cameras and fingerprint scanners even though their use is strictly regulated, raising questions about data privacy.

The cameras are imported from countries such as China and Spain while the final buyers of these devices are largely unknown, according to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

While sales of biometric cameras are not restricted in the Balkan country, Kosovo’s Law on the Protection of Personal Data allows the use of biometric devices in public and private sectors only if it is essential for the security of individuals, the protection of property, or the safeguarding of confidential and business secrets. Data subjects are required to be informed beforehand in writing about the processing of their biometric data.

Over the past years, the Kosovar Privacy Agency has prohibited state-owned companies and institutions from using biometric systems such as those for employee identification, including regional water company Hidrodrini, the University of Prishtina and Prishtina Parking. Private businesses, however, have been under less scrutiny.

The exact number of imported biometric cameras remains unknown.

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