The Slovenian clash between transparency and privacy

Slovenian data protection authority, Information Commissioner (IC), as we call it, has acquired a good reputation and has achieved a lot of media attention especially in the years under Commissioner Pirc Musar, a vocal ambassador for privacy and human rights. In addition to protecting personal data, IC’s mission is fighting for transparency of the public sector information (e.g., public spending, officials’ appointment procedures etc). Often these two tasks seem to contradict each other. As Pirc Musar admitted in her blog, in Slovenia, promoting transparency is much easier than advocating personal privacy.

Before Slovenians gained their independency in the 90s, they had been part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This regime has left a large stigma on the small nation. I will abstain from commenting on how our Yugoslavian past has been reflected in everyday life and how the post Second World War dilemmas have not been reconciled yet. What is interesting for this entry, however, is the persistent, at times even too enthusiastic drive for fairness and transparency of public sector information we can observe in today’s Slovenia. It gives the impression that Slovenians are now trying to compensate all the lack of transparency they had experienced in former Yugoslavia.

I am not saying that transparency should not be encouraged. After all, it has been a characteristic of all successful and prosperous western economies. And often there is still not enough of it – take for example the latest public scandal related to excessive and illegitimate use of public money by Slovenian ambassadors. However, it is critical that even rules advocating transparency have their limits and are balanced with other interests that might be at stake.

Recently we could follow the implementation of the new Slovenian law on tax cash registers that has imposed the obligation on all tax payers to either issue or accept a valid receipt after a purchase of every service or good. Compliance will be checked by state inspectors, who will also be authorized to fine those violating the law. In other words, the law enables inspectors to examine every single receipt, even those most sensitive ones, such as receipts for critical health services or sex shop purchases.
Fighting tax evasion is a valid argument, but does not the law go too far by requiring disclosure of all, even most personal payments?

When electronic real estate register was established in Slovenia, it allowed not only to easily check who the owners of the real estate were, but also to investigate how much (and how valuable) real estate an individual owns. This function was later disabled following IC’s intervention, but it is just another example of insensitivity of Slovenian legislator for privacy.

A similar situation happened with Supervisor, an online database of state transfers to an individual or to a legal entity. The idea was to increase transparency and prevent abusing practices of political leaders who too often (covered up by the system that discouraged transparent public spending) profited from the business made with the state. Supervisor opened up this data, but unfortunately, it also revealed some sensitive data such as home addresses of famous Slovenians.

Finally, the obsession with transparency was most evidently seen in the 2012 amendment of the Slovenian corporate law. Silent partnership, a corporate form that had been previously used by those who wanted to keep their entrepreneurship private, was erased from the Slovenian law. The rationale for this decision was (according to the Governmental proposal) the need for more transparency in business practice. Sadly, Slovenian legislator could not grasp that (particularly in the business!) privacy is not a threat to transparency but can be a valid business cause.

The Slovenian clash between transparency and privacy The Slovenian clash between transparency and privacy  Reviewed by Helena Uršič on 12:15 AM Rating: 5

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