STA, 23 July 2019 - The Constitutional Court has ordered an injunction against a legislative provision that allows law enforcement authorities to use IMSI catchers, devices that mimic mobile phone towers to intercept mobile traffic.
The court suspended the provision, passed in the amendments to the criminal procedure act in March, pending its final decision on a petition brought by the opposition Democratic Party (SDS) and the Left.
The parties are challenging several contentious provisions on the grounds of invasion of privacy, including Article 150.a of the criminal procedure act, which creates the legal basis for IMSI catchers.
The parties did not propose staying this particular provision, but the court did impose an injunction, arguing that its enforcement could cause damaging consequences that would be hard to repair.
The court holds that the use of IMSI catchers may provide the basis for further invasive encroachment on human rights by the state; among other things, it allows covert investigative measures.
"The measure allows distinctly targeted gathering and processing of many sets of personal data of a broad group of individuals," the court said.
The court is treating the case as an absolute priority. Other provisions challenged by the two parties have not been stayed.
The injunction was welcomed by both parties, while the Interior Ministry regretted it, saying that the use of IMSI catchers would make police work more effective and successful.
The ministry underscored that "IMSI catchers are being used successfully and effectively in several EU countries, helping them in the combat against the worst forms organised and other crime".
The Left's MP Matej T. Vatovec described the injunction as "the first good signal ... that the government's aspiration to establish a police state is excessive".
Digital technology makes it possible to invade privacy as never before, and the contentious amendments create more scope for unconstitutional spying on people, SDS MP Dejan Kaloh commented.
The SDS had expected the court to stay several other contentious provisions, but the court said this could create hard to reverse consequences if the provisions turned out not to be unconstitutional.
"This obviously does not mean that the Constitutional Court's final ruling will be in the government's favour", Kaloh said in a press release.
The two parties are challenging a number of new provisions which deal with covert investigative measures and data collection and surveillance in traffic, arguing grave and disproportional invasion of privacy.
The challenged articles include one that makes it possible to conduct a house search without the person being investigated being present.
The petitioners argue that the possibility of invasion of privacy should be limited to most urgent cases and that proper safeguards should be put in place to prevent abuse.
However, the Justice Ministry repeated in its response today that it did follow the principle of proportionality in drawing up the solutions.
The ministry also welcomed the court's decision to treat the matter as an absolute priority.
The Constitutional Court has recently also annulled a provision in the police powers act that sanctions the use systems for automatic licence plate recognition.