Personal Data Protection Agency officials seek EC’s protection

Zagreb, 23.09.2013 - Konferencija povodom obilježavanja Međunarodnog dana prava na pristup informacijama "Građani imaju pravo znati" u Hrvatskom saboru. foto FaH/ Denis CERIĆ /ds

Croatian Personal Data Protection Agency (AZOP) director Anto Rajkovaca and his deputy Dubravka Dolenc have sought protection from the European Commission after the government proposed that they be relieved of their duties because state officials’ declarations of assets were removed from the website of the Conflict of Interest Commission, the agency announced on its website on Friday.

The Commission said recently that AZOP had requested that the information concerning the marital status, the number of children, loans and net pay before taking office be removed from officials’ published declarations of assets. Since it was not technically possible for the Commission to remove only this information within the deadline of eight days as set by AZOP, the Commission decided to remove the entire declarations of assets from its website.

This move was seen by the media as an attempt to cover up information about state officials, so the parliament, acting on a proposal by the ruling Social Democratic Party, amended the Conflict of Interest Prevention Act and decided that that information must be published, after which the declarations of assets were reposted on the Commission’s website.

Despite the explanation by AZOP that they did not request the removal of the declarations of assets but only that portion of the information they considered private, the government moved that the parliament relieve Ante Rajkovaca and Dubravka Dolenc of their duties.

The two said in their letter to the European Commission that this was political pressure on a body that should be independent under European law and expressed their discontent about a media smear campaign against AZOP and its leaders. They claimed that the media completely distorted AZOP’s decision by portraying it as an attempt to cover up information, which they said was slander.

Rajkovaca and Dolenc said that the government’s proposal for their dismissal represented “direct interference in the day-to-day work of the Agency and, without a doubt, considerable obstruction of the Agency’s independence by the government.”

The two are confident that the government’s decision is in violation of EU law, citing a 2011 case in Hungary where the commissioner for personal data protection was relieved of his duties three years before the expiry of his term. The European Commission then sued Hungary to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that that was a violation of the independence of the Hungarian body responsible for personal data protection and hence a violation of EU law.

The AZOP leaders are seeking a quick reaction from the Commission, given that the procedure for their dismissal has already been launched.

The European Commission declined to comment on the case, with spokesman for the Directorate-General for Justice Christian Wigand briefly telling Hina that the Commission would analyse the situation.