By: Andrej Žitnik / Nova24tv
On Thursday, the coalition MPs approved amendments to the Tax Procedure Act and the Financial Administration Act. The Financial Administration Act raised a lot of concerns, mainly about the possibility of secret surveillance without a court order.
Namely, the law in question introduces the possibility of tracking by authorised persons, which are tax inspectors and customs officers in this case. All this without any court order and without any notice, which brings many possibilities for abuse.
The decision on tracking will be left entirely to the discretion of the tax inspector and the customs officer. The National Assembly will decide, on the proposal of the Minister of Finance, Klemen Boštjančič, whether tax inspectors and customs officers will be able to track someone if the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia assesses that they are transporting goods. This also calls into question the protection of human rights. We should also add that even in the case of suspicions of the most serious forms of crime, the police can only trace a person with a court order.
While the Financial Administration Act provides for goods to be traced and not a person (i.e. the driver), the fact is that goods cannot move from one place to another without a person. Boštjančič and his team propose that Article 14 of the Financial Administration Act, which deals with the powers of officials and their use of technical devices for recording and photographing, be amended to allow officials to use technical devices for photographing or recording and tracking devices that use the Global Positioning System.
Inspectors and customs officers will be able to place the tracking device on the outside of the vehicle if they are authorised to do so by the person in charge at the Financial Administration. The Administration is also expected to issue a call for tenders shortly, in order to recruit dozens of people to monitor this or act as “supervisors.”
Pirnat: the case is borderline
When the government presented the proposal that has been approved on Thursday, legal expert Rajko Pirnat commented for the Delo newspaper that “the matter is certainly borderline, and the use of secret means of tracking is intended to be unsupervised.” It would be better if a person outside the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia decided on the use of a covert tracking device, as the use of covert devices in the case of the Financial Administration’s financial investigations is not under the control of the competent parliamentary commission, the Commission for Supervision of the Security and Intelligence Services. The use of covert tracking will, therefore, not be subject to external control.
The experts commented on the announced tracking by saying that “the police state is being introduced slowly,” and that Slovenia is “the first country in the world to have a ministry against the economy.”
The adoption of the act in question was followed by strong reactions from Twitter users. Former minister and current MP of the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka – SDS), Zvone Černač, wrote that the amendment was not approved by the MPs, as there are 90 of them in the National Assembly, but only by Golob’s MPs, who approved secret surveillance without a court order and a lifetime mandate for the Director of the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia.
And Žiga Turk noted that this government is actually doing everything it had accused the previous government of doing – but did not prove it.
Namely, during the previous government’s term, the opposition MPs of the so-called Constitutional Arch Coalition (Koalicija ustavnega loka – KUL), used bizarre arguments to justify why they would not use the “Stay Healthy” app, which anonymously recorded contacts between infected people (even Nataša Pirc Musar admitted at the time that there was nothing wrong with the app on the grounds of personal data protection). Alenka Bratušek said that she did not want Aleš Hojs to follow her movement, Luka Mesec said that it was because he did not trust the government, Tanja Fajon said that the downloading of the app was voluntary, and Marjan Šarec said that the Prime Minister had supposedly said that it was not effective.
Of course, this was nothing but pure harassment of the former government by the then-opposition, using any means necessary. These same former MPs of the so-called Constitutional Arch Coalition, who were so bothered by the “Stay Healthy” app, which did not store any personal data of its users, have now legitimised the Financial Administration’s completely arbitrary extra-judicial surveillance of ordinary citizens, which is unique not only in the European Union but in general across all democracies in the wider Western world. What is more, even in autocratic quasi-democracies such as Russia and Belarus, inspectors must first obtain a court order before their tax offices can follow individuals. In a free world, one must indeed be vigilant at every step.