Local council meetings may no longer be filmed. Reason - protection of personal data
Citizens, civic activists or councillors could be banned from video or audio recording local council meetings. The National Centre for Personal Data Protection (CNPDCP) has sent a notification to the State Chancellery, informing that local elected officials or participants who video record local meetings violate the right to personal data protection of councillors, as well as of individuals, whose issues are discussed in the meetings.
Citizens, civic activists or councillors could be banned from video or audio recording local council meetings. The National Centre for Personal Data Protection (CNPDCP) has sent a notification to the State Chancellery, informing that local elected officials or participants who video record local meetings violate the right to personal data protection of councillors, as well as of individuals, whose issues are discussed in the meetings. Experts in the field, as well as some local elected representatives, say that this notification by the NCCPD is abusive and that the protection of personal data is only a formal pretext to restrict access to information of public interest. Last week, municipal councillors in Hincesti were notified by the Hincesti Territorial Office of the State Chancellery that they would be restricted from filming municipal council meetings. Councillor Marcel Petrușan says the secretary of the local council refers to a circular of the State Chancellery. "They want to close our mouths by banning filming. We have to film the meetings to show that everything is transparent. But it is precisely because of a lack of transparency that all the dirty things happen. People have a right to know what is happening with their tax money. That is why I think it is an abuse and an intention to intimidate councillors or, in general, citizens to film a public meeting, especially since not everyone can come to the Town Hall to attend these meetings", says Marcel Petrușan. Personal data versus information of public interest In reply, Ion Mereuță, head of the State Chancellery's territorial office in Hincesti, argues that the circular came from the State Chancellery's central office. He says that the restriction on recording meetings is justified because during the filming of meetings personal data of councillors and some citizens are used, which must be protected. "We issue administrative acts, carry out activities where we use personal data. That's why a complaint came from the National Centre for Personal Data Protection," says the official. In his opinion, every local councillor should give their consent for meetings to be filmed. A similar problem occurred in the city of Nisporeni, where video recording of local council meetings was banned. Local councillor Gheorghe Agheorghiesei recounts that in December 2019, the majority of councillors in the city of Nisporeni approved a decision on banning the filming and online transmission of meetings. "We had scandal. The councillors were giving the reason that they did not want to be filmed and said that we are not allowed to film them, only accredited TV stations are allowed. They voted that nobody is allowed to film the meetings. I think this is a restriction of rights and we opposed it. Since then we have continued to film," says the councillor. At the discretion of local councillors, the National Centre for Personal Data Protection sent the notification to the State Chancellery after several local authorities reportedly sought the Centre's opinion on filming local council meetings. The notification, which was also published on the Centre's website, states that the online publication of recordings of local council meetings gives access to the information discussed at the meetings to an unlimited number of people, not just those in the locality concerned. Denis Coțofan, deputy head of the legal department of the NCCDPC, says municipalities should draw up their own regulations indicating which topics can be filmed and transmitted online and which cannot. "In the case of local councils, special categories of data, related to health, for example, can also be discussed. In this regard, any LPA must have a regulation, in which it is clearly explained how to obtain consent to film and how to do so," the CNPDCP representative notes. For his part, Marcel Petrușan says that usually personal data is not voiced in meetings, only the amount and the status of the need. "Never at the meetings was more than the name and surname of the person who received help mentioned. The ID number or IDNP, the year of birth, were never mentioned. This aid is allocated from public money and the citizens should know who has benefited from it," says the councillor. Experts: notification against the law According to Mariana Kalughin, an anti-corruption expert, the CNPDCP's notification contravenes the Law on Transparency in Decision-Making and the Law on Local Public Administration. "The public nature of the meetings is also a condition imposed by Article 17 of Law 436/2006 on local public administration, and preventing free access to local council meetings or compromising the decision-making process by deliberately concealing information of public interest must be sanctioned," says the expert. If it is left to the discretion of councillors to adopt regulations approving records of meetings, then local councillors will not only have to ensure that they respect the protection of personal data of citizens concerned in meetings, but also that they do not restrict access to information of public interest, Kalughin added. Sergiu Bozianu, president of the Association for the Protection of Privacy, also believes that there will be abuses, even if the CNPDCP notification is legally substantiated, saying that local elected officials have no knowledge of personal data protection. He notes that the Centre has not given clear recommendations to local public authorities, which information should be filmed and which should not. "This right has been left to the councils, but since they are not specialists, I think they will come to the same conclusion: that nothing can be filmed and recorded. The weakest point is that these councils have to pass regulations as they please. Knowing the level of training of civil servants in the field of personal data protection, which is beginner level, there will be abuses from the perspective of these regulations." To avoid interpretation of the law by local elected officials, Sergiu Bozianu proposes that the NCCDP should come up with clear instructions and that local elected officials should be able to draft regulations, also taking into account the provisions of the Access to Information Act. Mariana Jacot, Independent Press Association (API)