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Human Rights in Lithuania 2016-2017

Human Rights Monitoring Institute presents overview “Human Rights in Lithuania 2016-2017.” It is our 9th overview which is the only periodic assessment of the human rights situation in Lithuania conducted by 17 independent experts from various fields.

 


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Personal Data Security Hole Found on Lithuanian Employment Office Website

For quite some time, thousands of confidential personal identity codes were freely available on the Lithuanian Employment Office website.

What’s more, it took a while before the visitor who noticed this gap in security was able to find someone in the office to contact about this breach of data protection.

This isn’t the first time that the Lithuanian authorities have failed to ensure minimum data protection standards, but the State Data Protection Inspectorate has yet to undertake any awareness raising or prevention measures. More (in Lithuanian).


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Lithuanian Citizens Outraged by Mass Leak of Personal Data

One municipality in Lithuania accidentally leaked residents’ personal codes to the public, violating their right to privacy and exposing them to fraud.

Kėdainiai District Municipality sent out bills for waste disposal in envelopes displaying residents’ personal codes right next to their names. These codes are unique to each citizen and may be used to determine someone’s gender and date of birth.

Outrage

The outraged citizens bombarded the municipality with questions, requesting an explanation as to why such sensitive personal data was written on envelopes. Some claimed they would seek damages in court. Most were afraid that the publicized data would be picked up by scammers and used to take out loans from payday loan companies in their name.

Lithuanian laws explicitly prohibit publicizing personal codes. A mistake of this kind and scale shows that the personal data protection was not given even a modicum of attention.

Data protection not a priority?

According to Human Rights Monitoring Institute lawyer Karolis Liutkevičius, this example illustrates that even the public sector (to talk nothing of the private sector) does not see the right to data protection as something worth prioritizing.

“This is a serious problem. Data protection is a human right – ignoring it not only results in interference with people’s private lives and increases the risk of fraud, it also undermines basic human dignity,” Liutkevičius said.

According to Liutkevičius, state and municipal authorities as well as private organizations should change their attitude towards data security. “We hope that further incentives will come from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which will come into force in May 2018 and set out harsher consequences for failure to follow data protection requirements.”

According to the draft Lithuanian regulatory model, state and municipal institutions could be fined up to €60,000 for such violations.

Not the first time

This is not the first massive violation of personal data protection in Lithuania.

This spring, hackers broke into the databases of Grožio Chirurgija, a cosmetic surgery clinic, stealing and publicizing patients’ personal information and private photos. The clinic has come under harsh criticism for its failure to protect its customers’ data even on the the most basic level.


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Update to the Council of Europe on the execution of L v. Lithuania judgment

Today, the National LGBT* Rights Organization LGL and the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) informed the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe about the process of executing the judgement in the case L. v. Lithuania.

The civil society organizations’ have commended the Government’s efforts in introducing comprehensive procedures for legal gender recognition and medical gender reassignment with the view of addressing the continuing systematic violations of transgender human rights in Lithuania. Nevertheless, LGL and HRMI are of the position that close supervision by the Council of Europe’s institutions shall prevail until the legislative and policy measures are fully in place.

Progress on the national level

In their briefing, the civil society organizations acknowledge that in the period of March-June, 2017 the Lithuanian authorities, namely – the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, have been taking concrete steps with the view of eliminating the continuing systematic violation of the right to respect of private life under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR) for transgender individuals in Lithuania.

Currently, HRMI and LGL sit in the working group drafting the law on legal gender recognition. The working group was established by the Ministry of Justice.

Furthermore, in two ground-breaking decisions of 7 April 2017 and of 2 May 2017 the Vilnius City District Court addressed the legal gap on gender reassignment by granting legal gender recognition for two transgender men without the requirement for the irreversible gender reassignment surgery.

Establishment of the administrative procedure is mandatory

Nevertheless, the satisfactory execution of the L. v. Lithuania judgment requires the establishment of the corresponding administrative procedure for legal gender recognition, which would enable transgender individuals to change their identity documents in a quick, accessible and transparent manner without the necessity of applying before the national courts.

The civil society organizations welcome the Government’s efforts to establish such procedure and invite the Lithuanian authorities to strictly follow the legal standards established by the domestic courts throughout the legislative process.

Information prepared by LGL.


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Public opinion poll (2016)

On October 19-26 the public opinion poll on the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania was  carried out by “Spinter tyrimai”, a market research company. The poll, commissioned by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, is primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

Results of 2016 poll: 

According to Lithuanians, the most-violated right in 2016 was the right to fair trial. This follows the trend of 2012 and 2014. The right to privacy was the second-most violated right, while the right to participate in political life had the least amount of violations associated with it.

Sufficient info

There was a slight increase in the number of people claiming that they have enough information on human rights, with as much as 63% indicating so in this year’s survey, compared to 52% in 2012 and 60% in 2014.

Those claiming that there was enough information on human rights were most likely to be 18-45 years old, having attained the highest level of education, belonging to the highest income bracket and living in urban areas.

The number of people knowing where to go in the event of a rights violation has also been growing steadily. In 2016, more than half (57%) of respondents claimed that they knew which institution to go to when their rights are violated, compare to 54% in 2014, 52% in 2012 and 49% in 2010.

Rarely defend their rights

Going by the results of the survey, one in five Lithuanians has had his or her rights violated. Nevertheless, only 7% of all respondents claiming that their rights had been violated took steps to remedy the issue.

As was the case in previous years, the main reason for the reluctance to defend one’s rights is the lack of trust in institutions that are meant to remedy breaches. As much as three fourths of those that claimed a rights violation but failed to do anything about it said that they didn’t believe that going to an institution would help.

The survey revealed that when people did go to an institution when their rights were violated, they most often went to the police or the prosecutor’s office (36%), followed by NGOs and the courts.

Mentally disabled face greatest discrimination

Respondents were also asked to opine which social group faced the most discrimination in Lithuania. The situation remains unchanged for the sixth year running, with the mentally disabled being named the most discriminated social group. They got 5.68 points (compared to 5.03 points in 2014), with the elderly coming in second (5.40) and persons with physical disabilities settling on third place (5.21).

This year, the survey also included refugees as a possible social group. Their vulnerability was rated fairly highly, scoring a little over 5 points (5.02). Those aged 26-35 and urban residents were more likely to claim that refugees were discriminated against.

 


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Court Puts a Stop to Surveillance Camera Abuse

The Vilnius City District Court ruled that the owner of commercial premises that were located in an apartment block violated his neighbors’ right to privacy by installing no less than eight surveillance cameras without their consent.

The owner argued that he was trying to protect his property and that the cameras were turned off, but his pleas failed to persuade the court.

Can’t get home without being filmed

The owner, who had a history of quarrelling with his neighbors, installed three cameras in the main stairway and five on the outside of the building. The cameras monitored both entrances, the sidewalk, the parking lot and even the entrance to one of the flats. This meant that the residents were, in essence, unable to enter their homes without being filmed.

According to the court, the neighbors (who were also the plaintiffs in the case) had clearly shown that they did not consent to being filmed – in fact, they even complained to the State Data Protection Inspectorate about the situation. At the same time, the respondent had set up video surveillance in such a way that the other residents had no choice except to enter the monitored area and could not avoid being filmed against their will.

The private lives of neighbors

The court found that this not only violated their right to an image, but also their right to respect for private life:

“By monitoring the stairway and apartment entrances used by the plaintiffs, the respondent inevitably collects additional information about the plaintiffs’ private lives, which is wider in scope than just the right to an image: at what times and how often the plaintiffs leave or return home, how long they stay at home, what kind of people visit them and how often they receive guests, etc.”

Having established that there was a violation of the plaintiffs’ right to private life, the court ordered the respondent to remove all eight cameras and forbade him from setting up any cameras in the future without first obtaining written consent from all of the residents of the building.

No respect for privacy

The Human Rights Monitoring Institute acted as a third party that supported the plaintiffs.

Karolis Liutkevičius, who represented the HRMI in court, welcomed the decision. According to him, Lithuanian law is not very clear on the use of surveillance cameras by private individuals.

“There are many cases of abuse, where cameras are used without respecting the need for privacy of those living nearby. As such, we are happy that the court, in dealing with this issue, acted in accordance with the fundamental human right to privacy, laying down the foundations for dealing with similar situations in this way in the future.”


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The Privacy Paradox and Europe’s Way Forward on Data Protection

At the Digital Rights Forum 2016, experts discussed the preparedness of companies to implement the General Data Protection Regulation and debated whether we really know what type of data protection people actually need.

“We had to update the regulatory regime concerning data protection to keep pace with technological challenges,” claimed EU Commission representative Paulo Silva, speaking at the Digital Rights Forum 2016 about the changes brought about by the General Data Protection Regulation.

Evolution, not revolution

According to Silva, the new Regulation represents evolution and not revolution in data protection, since we are familiar with most of the rules already.

“What is changing? We are moving towards greater accountability for data processors. This is a new model for managing data protection, one that aims to let people themselves to be in control of their data.”

The Regulation makes it easier to control data. Data processors are now also obliged to provide more comprehensive information on what they will use personal data for, while consent to processing will have to be given by a clear affirmative act.

Yet another important novelty that the Regulation brings to the table is data protection by design. Various products and services will also have to incorporate data protection measures – for example, if your refrigerator is connected to the Internet, it will be necessary to ensure that it will not work without a correct password.

These new data protection rules will apply to both EU subjects and companies outside the EU that offer services to the Union’s citizens.

Online behavioral tracking is now the prevalent business model

According to the assistant to the European Data Protection Supervisor, Christian D’Cunha, who spoke about the competitive advantages offered by privacy protection, privacy is necessary for the enjoyment of other rights – self expression, creation, innovation and, more recently, choosing what content to access online.

“Three-quarters of all people now receive their news through social media, but your experiences there are determined by algorithms. When I sought solace in Facebook after Brexit, you would’ve thought that 95 percent of the people voted to stay, but that was obviously untrue.”

D’Cunha said that 91% of US residents feel that they can no longer control how companies use their data.

“Last year, we visited the Silicon Valley, had meetings with companies and got the impression that the dominant business model nowadays is online behaviorist tracking.” According to D’Cunha, the meetings revealed that it was very difficult to gain support from investors without showing how the company could monetize data. Companies wishing to escape this model would simply not attract investment.

Lithuanian companies adapt to new technologies, but are susceptible to threats

This trend was also observed by Mindaugas Kiškis, who presented a study on the preparedness of Lithuanian companies to implement the Regulation. According to the expert, the researchers were pleasantly surprised by the progressiveness of Lithuanian companies and their willingness to adapt to new technologies. On the one hand, this provides a competitive edge (especially for startups), but on the other, it also creates data protection risks.

According to Kiškis, when dealing with data protection issues, companies rely on internal resources and do not defer to professionals, even though they know very little about the regulation of privacy and data protection.

The researcher criticized the bureaucratic, formalistic view of data protection and uneven EU privacy protection practices.

“The European Commission tells us that it’s protecting our privacy, and then this very same Commission, I would say, rather undemocratically decides to gather the biometric data of all EU citizens.”

The expert questioned whether this did not amount to applying a double standard. “Did anyone ask whether we wanted this, did anyone ask us for permission to give the state access to all of our biometric data? The way I see it, this really doesn’t contribute much to the overall perception of privacy.”

“Hard security is worth little”

According to Kiškis, the public is not sufficiently educated on privacy and data protection. Furthermore, qualitative research is needed to analyze people’s views on privacy. While many claim that they value privacy, they don’t know what to say when probed deeper. In the absence of any qualitative research, it is unclear whether regulation of this sort is what people actually need.

“We are fixated on hard to security, on data encryption and firewalls. We need to understand that hard security in reality is worth very little. If we take a good, hard look at security threats, two-thirds of them are ‘soft’ and caused by people. Encryption is meaningless when your password is ‘Lithuania1’.”

To improve privacy and the protection of personal data, Kiškis recommended strengthening the role of supervisory authorities so that they are able to advise companies on data protection issues, as well as increasing awareness of the changes and the new provisions in this area.

Privacy is valued, but people don’t report data breaches

In the second half of the event, Natalija Bitiukova of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute talked about the privacy paradox and presented the study on the public’s perceptions of data protection.

According to Bitiukova, there is a clear gap between the people’s intentions regarding giving access to their data and their behaviour in practice. Furthermore, despite claiming that it’s important to them, most people, when faced with a violation of their privacy, choose to not report it to any institution.

See the recording here: http://www.scena.lt/lt/event?rid=10462


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New studies find low awareness of data protection among Lithuanian business and public

Two new research studies, released by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI), discuss perceptions of Lithuanian public towards the right to data protection and the readiness of Lithuanian business to implement the EU data protection reform.

privacyparadox
“The Privacy Paradox: the Lithuanian Public’s Perceptions of Data Protection”. HRMI collaborated with “Spinter research” and carried out a representative survey of more than 1,000 Lithuanian residents in the July of 2016, asking about their understanding of the right to data protection, knowledge about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and remedies available in case of the data violations. “More than 6 out of 10 Lithuanians recognize that they are not aware of their rights and obligations in the data protection field and only 2 out of 10 Lithuanian residents have heard about the GDPR”, the study found. (read the study)

 

“The Preparedness of Lithuanian Business to Implement GDPR”. To assess the prevailing attitudes about data protection among business entities, HRMI conducted an exploratory survey ogdprf 50 Lithuanian companies asking about their data processing practices and awareness of the upcoming legal changes. According to the study, “the majority of the respondents were aware of the GDPR, but only 8% claimed knowledge about the new requirements being introduced. In the run-up to the implementation of the GDPR in Lithuania, most companies would like more information on the changes brought about by Regulation (98%.) and detailed advice on satisfying its requirements (94%) (Fig. 20). According to 80% of respondents, what would be most useful is help on technological solutions required by the Regulation.”(read the study)

The findings of the studies were discussed during the first in Lithuania Digital Rights Forum 2016.


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Watch Live: Digital Rights Forum 2016

(broadcast will go live on October 27, 9 am to 2 pm)

On October 27, the data protection experts and like-minded enthusiasts will come together for the first „Digital Rights Forum 2016“ in Lithuania (agenda).

The first edition of the Forum centers around the recently adopted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is expected that the GDPR will strengthen citizens’ rights and build trust in e-services as well as boost digital innovation.

The GDPR indeed brings about significant changes: citizens will be able to enjoy a right to data portability, a right to receive information about the processing of their personal data and data breach notifications, a right to be forgotten and many others. Business, on the other hand, will be relieved of certain administrative duties, yet will have to follow strict accountability standards. A failure to comply with the GDPR may lead to fines as high as 20 million EUR.

How to ensure compliance with the regulation? How the new data protection regime can aid with everyday data protection violations?  What are the competitive advantages of privacy? These questions will be tackled together with the experts from the European Commission and the European data protection supervisor’s office, representatives of business, Norwegian NGO “Electronic Frontiers Norway” and the Baltic data protection and regulatory authorities (bios of speakers).

Is Lithuania prepared for GPR?

The background for the discussion will be provided by two new surveys conducted by the HRMI. The first one assesses the readiness of business to implement the GDPR, while the second one looks at the attitudes of Lithuanians towards data protection.

“Majority of the companies surveyed have heard about the regulation, yet only 8% have some knowledge about the upcoming changes. The level of awareness among the general population is even lower – as much as 78% claimed they knew nothing about the data protection reform”, says Natalija Bitiukova, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute.

“There is a lack of clarity surrounding the GDPR, even among legal practitioners. We see a clear need for more discussions on the upcoming changes and hope that the Forum will create a space to find the best ways for GDPR’ implementation”.

 Watch Forum Live

Forum will be livestreamed on October 27 from 9 am to 2 pm EET. Tune in on Delfi TV or our website www.hrmi.lt. Use sli.do (#2524) to send questions and to share your insights with the panelists.

Follow Forum updates on our Facebook page (in Lithuanian).

eea-grants-logo_0Forum is hosted by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, the Representation of the European Commission in Lithuania and the State Data Protection Inspectorate. The Forum is a part of the project “General data protection regulation: assessing awareness of individuals and companies” implemented joinly by the HRMI and the Electronic Frontiers Norway.   The project is funded by the EEA Grants 2009-2014 NGO Programme Lithuania.

 

Contact person: Natalija Bitiukova, HRMI Deputy Director, natalija.bitiukova@hrmi.lt; +370 5 231 46 81


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Outrage Over Lithuanian Investigators’ Mass Snooping Attempt on Visa Card Clients

EVP International, the company responsible for issuing Paysera Visa cards in Lithuania, expressed its fury over the Financial Crime Investigation Service’s attempt to snoop on its clients.

“With reference to Article 7 of the Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, we ask you to provide us with the data of all clients that have been issued a Paysera Visa card (name, last name, personal identity code/date of birth, document No., issuing authority, card number and date of issue).”

The above is a request that the Financial Crime Investigation Service (FCIS) submitted to EVP International. In addition, not only did the FCIS ask the company to provide the agency with the data of all users of the Visa card, it also asked for the details of all of their past transactions – that is, who withdrew money or used their card, the location of where it was done, and how much money was involved.

‘Mass surveillance’

“We consider this request to be tantamount to mass surveillance,” claimed EVP International lawyer Julija Šlekonytė in an interview with delfi.lt. According to her, the FCIS did not specify what they needed the data for and did not provide any information about an ongoing investigation. Furthermore, the agency did not request information on a specific person or sum of money, but rather that general info be provided on each client.

The company approached the FCIS, asking why it needed information on every client, but the response given was vague: as an electronic money institution registered in the Republic of Lithuania, the company was required by law “to monitor clients’ business relationships and to give access to the information held.”

FCIS chief evasive

When delfi.lt got in touch with other major financial services providers, it turned out that they haven’t been quite as forthcoming. Two major banks, Swedbank and SEB, said that they cooperate with the authorities and provide information once they review the request. Both institutions declined further comment, claiming that the very same law prevented them from talking about it.

As if that wasn’t enough, the head of the FCIS, Kęstutis Jucevičius, also failed to explain why his agency needed so much data on all of Visa Paysera’s clients. He limited his response to vague statements on the general functions of the agency.

According to Jucevičius, the FCIS is responsible for the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing, and it is for this purpose that the agency analyzes information on financial transactions and deals.

“The law outlines the rights of the agency to procure information and documents necessary to carry out these functions,” said Jucevičius, commenting on the situation.

Authorities ‘prone to abuse authority’

Karolis Liutkevičius, a legal expert with the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, claimed that, in this particular instance, law enforcement authorities interpret their right to obtain information too broadly and ignore fundamental principles concerning the protection of privacy.

How should we view such actions of the FCIS? Does the law really allow for the collection of private data on such a massive scale?

From the point of view of data protection or the right to respect for private life, the actions of the FCIS are very objectionable. In essence, it is mass surveillance, the collection of non-individualized financial information concerning private individuals and surveillance of the same.

International human rights standards provide that a person’s private life may only be interfered with when it is necessary to do so, using proportionate measures. It is highly unlikely that mass surveillance, by holding all users of a particular card brand to be potential money launderers or financiers of terrorism, is a proportionate measure.

The Law on Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, which the FCIS relies on for its collection of data, is not particularly clear. The law provides that the FCIS has the right to obtain “information and documents on financial transactions and deals required to carry out its functions” from financial institutions.

It seems that the FCIS likes to interpret its powers very broadly, as a right to obtain any information it finds interesting. However, when applying this particular provision, we cannot ignore the aforementioned international human rights standards, and as such the collection of data itself must be carried out in a proportionate manner – that translates to getting specific data on particular people or groups as opposed to the mass collection of non-individualized data.

The collection of data is further limited by the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, which provides that, without exception, information on a person’s private life may only be collected if there is a court order to that effect.

In any case, the way the law is currently phrased clearly allows authorities to abuse their power by collecting undefined private financial information.

It is likely that other companies have also received similar requests, but from their responses it would seem that they are neither outraged nor surprised by this practice. Far from it – it would seem that they are actually afraid of sanctions. Why do you think EVP International decided to speak out on this issue?

There is currently not a lot of public information available on the cooperation between law enforcement agencies and financial institutions, so we can only hazard a guess. I would personally guess that EVP International doesn’t have as much experience in dealing with law enforcement agencies as some of the larger financial institutions that have been operating in Lithuania for a longer period of time, and thus they were honestly surprised by the request from the FCIS.

What does this situation say on the state of private data protection in Lithuania?

The Constitution of Lithuania sets out strong principles for the protection of private life and, consequently, to the protection of private data. However, it appears that these principles are rarely followed in practice and the authorities (especially law enforcement) look for ways to circumvent them or simply ignore them.

The problem is further exacerbated by our legislation, which sets a low level of protection. Unfortunately, there is little to no public discourse on these problems and the issue attracts comparatively little interest.

If some companies refuse to defend their clients’ rights, is there anything the people themselves could to do oppose mass surveillance?

The avenues that consumers of financial services can pursue are limited, but they are there: first of all, you can take an active interest in the matter and ask your service provider to clarify how it protects your personal data, who and under what circumstances may access it, what steps were taken to protect your privacy. If their response does not satisfy you, change your service provider to one that protects your private life.


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EU Data protection reform (completed)


The primary objective of the project is to assist in raising awareness on the major changes to the data protection landscape in Lithuania brought about by the General Data Protection Regulation, and to advance the understanding of a right to personal data as a fundamental human right and the civil society’s role in its protection


Project period 2016 06 01 – 2016 11 30
Partnership Lithuania, Kingdom of Norway
Project snapshot  
Activities

 

HRMI released to reseach studies discussing perceptions of Lithuanian public towards the right to data protection and the readiness of Lithuanian business to implement the EU data protection reform.

“The Privacy Paradox: the Lithuanian Public’s Perceptions of Data Protection”. HRMI collaborated with “Spinter research” and carried out a representative survey of more than 1,000 Lithuanian residents in the July of 2016, asking about their understanding of the right to data protection, knowledge about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and remedies available in case of the data violations (read the study)

“The Preparedness of Lithuanian Business to Implement GDPR”. To assess the prevailing attitudes about data protection among business entities, HRMI conducted an exploratory survey of 50 Lithuanian companies asking about their data processing practices and awareness of the upcoming legal changes (read the study).

The findings of the studies were discussed during the first in Lithuania Digital Rights Forum 2016.

We are grateful for the financial support to eea-grants-logo_0

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People do care about their privacy

“Our research shows that the right to privacy is considered one of the most vulnerable. People are concerned about their privacy, but what can they do to better protect it?”. Natalija Bitiukova of HRMI says that even though individuals can file complaints to data protection authorities, penalties for privacy violations are low – only up to 579 EUR.

Whilst speaking at the conference “The Borderline between Cybersecurity and Individual Freedoms”, HRMI’s Legal Director pointed out that it is a myth that people do not care about their privacy – they simply lack information of the ways their privacy can potentially be infringed.

“In the case of mass surveillance, where the information is transferred to third countries, individuals may not even suspect that their data are processed without their informed consent” – said Natalija Bitiukova, whilst also drawing attention to the issues widely debated in Europe, but not yet in Lithuania.

Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor noted at the conference that cybersecurity must not become an excuse for a disproportionate management of personal data. “For a long time it was believed that the right to privacy and protection of personal data are intersecting with cybersecurity. However, I believe this is the wrong approach” – he said.

Vytautas Butrimas, chief of the Ministry of Defence, had a contrary opinion – in his opinion, in today’s world, privacy is a myth. The participants of the second panel of the conference pointed out that everyone, who has access to internet, is basically public and not protected. “People share various information online and do not consider the consequences”, said Aurimas Navys, the representative of the International Security Cluster Association.

One of the goals of the conference was to encourage the public discussion, and dialogue between the groups of competing interests regarding the cybersecurity and the right to privacy. The Conference was organized by US-LT Alumni Association.


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Draft Gender Reassignment Laws Need More Work

Lithuanian Government should improve draft law proposals on transgender rights – claim HRMI and Lithuanian Gay League in their joint submission to the Committee of Ministers.

The submission evaluates the steps the Lithuanian Government took so far to implement European Court of Human Rights judgement in the case of L v Lithuania (2007). The court ruled Lithuania violated the rights of transgender applicant by failing to adopt legal gender reassignment procedures.

The Government prepared a package of draft laws aiming to regulate medical gender reassignment and legal recognition of gender reassignment.

HRMI and LGL drew the Committee’s attention that the proposals of the Government’s task force fall short of the European and international standards in this area. European Council member states are obliged to create quick, transparent and accessible procedures, allowing transgender people to change their name and gender in personal documents.

The Government however suggests that these changes can be made only upon receiving a certificate from an unspecified health institution, and the draft law fails to forsee proceedings or criteria for issuing such certificate. This is only one of the shortcomings of the Government’s proposals.

More on protection of transgender rights in Lithuania – in our Human Rights Overview, accessible in English at: www.pasidomek.lt


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2013-2014: Overview

On June 17, HRMI released its 8th overview „Human Rights in Lithuania: 2013-2014“. The Overview is the only periodic assessment of the human rights situation in Lithuania conducted by more than 20 independent experts. It covers rights of the child, women’s rights, freedom of speech, assembly and religion, prohibition of torture and other fundamental rights. Read the full Overview here.


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Public opinion poll (2014)

Starting in 2004, Human Rights Monitoring Institute began assessing the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania. For this purpose HRMI, in cooperation with the Market and Opinion Research Centre “Vilmorus Ltd.”, carries out a biennial public opinion poll on human rights related questions.

The opinion polls are primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

The poll’s questions cover civil and political rights with an added emphasis on the public’s awareness of instances of discrimination and violations of privacy: the poll participants are asked to indicate the most discriminated societal groups and to determine whether a violation of privacy occurred in given example scenarios.

The findings indicate that the absolute majority (95 percent) of Lithuanian residents who thought that their rights had been infringed did not report said infringement to any institution. However, by contrast, a fifth or more of the respondents have indicated a willingness to defend their rights in previous years (over 18 percent in 2012 and over 22 percent in 2010).

For more statistics see the executive summary (English) of the findings or the read the full findings (Lithuanian only).


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2011-2012 Overview

Human Rights Monitoring Institute presents the seventh overview of human rights in Lithuania (in Lithuanian). It is a unique report on the human rights situation in Lithuania in the period of 2011-2012. An English summary of the overview is also available.


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Public opinion poll (2012)

Starting in 2004, Human Rights Monitoring Institute began assessing the prevailing attitudes in society towards the human rights situation in Lithuania. For this purpose HRMI, in cooperation with the Market and Opinion Research Centre “Vilmorus Ltd.”, carries out a biennial public opinion poll on human rights related questions.

The opinion polls are primarily aimed at determining the general public’s knowledge level about human rights and ways to defend them, as well as the extent of confidence in the mechanisms for protection of these rights.

The poll’s questions cover civil and political rights with an added emphasis on the public’s awareness of instances of discrimination and violations of privacy: the poll participants are asked to indicate the most discriminated societal groups and to determine whether a violation of privacy occurred in given example scenarios.

The 2012 poll indicates that certain trends are quite stable. First, the level of action to defend rights remains very low – only 1 in 5 respondents who considered their rights violated sought help. Second, the level of confidence in the effectiveness of human rights defence mechanisms has not increased as well – 4 out of 5 respondents who refrained from seeking help did not believe they would have received effective assistance, allowing them to defend their rights.

Full results (in Lithuanian)


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Use of Video Surveillance in Lithuania (2012)

Human Rights Monitoring Institute published a study on video surveillance entitled “The Right to Respect for Private Life: the use of video surveillance in Lithuania”. The study aimed to review and evaluate the use of video surveillance cameras and its legal regulation.

Video surveillance cameras, when used responsibly, may be a helpful tool in dealing with law offences. However, an uncontrolled expansion of video surveillance network and insufficient or inadequate legal regulation pose a threat to the right to privacy.

Since 2005, when HRMI conducted a similar study, considerable improvements can be observed. The Law on Protection of Personal Data now includes a separate section on video surveillance, establishing video surveillance as ultima ratio, i.e. a measure employed only in cases when the aims sought cannot be achieved by means less restrictive of person’s privacy. However, despite the obvious progress, the legal framework is not without shortcomings. Moreover, video surveillance operators often fail to comply with the law.

One of the major issues is the legal regulation of video surveillance installation procedure, requiring merely notification of authorities rather than a permit to conduct surveillance. Such regulation creates preconditions for abuse of surveillance and leaves unlimited discretion to operators to decide on the need to install cameras. Often, operators fail to notify the State Data Protection Inspectorate of the cameras installed. Another major legal gap is the exemption of video surveillance conducted by natural persons from the Law on Data Protection. It was confirmed by the ruling of the administrative court that the law does not apply to natural persons carrying out surveillance for personal purposes only.

The law provides that video surveillance operators have an obligation to notify of video surveillance conducted in the territory or premises in a “clear and appropriate” manner. The information must reach individuals before entering the territory under surveillance. However, the majority of operators either ignore these requirements at all, or implement them in a manner inconsistent with legal provisions.

Having regard to the conclusions of the study, HRMI issued a set of recommendations for legal and policy improvements for the authorities responsible for the implementation of the data protection law.


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Use of personal identification code (2011)
In September 2011, HRMI conducted a study “Right to Respect for Private Life: the use of personal code“, which aimed to review the developments of the legal framework and its practical application regarding the use of personal identification numbers, i.e. personal codes. The progress in comparison with the findings of similar research in 2004 was obvious: the Law on Personal Data Protection now prohibits collection and use of personal codes for direct marketing purposes. A number of instances when personal code is requested has decreased. However, there are still cases when personal code is requested for disclosure without reasonable grounds, e.g. while purchasing foreign currency, requesting for refund for bought goods, using car services.A number of other problems specified in 2004 study remain: thus far no action has been taken to set a new personal code structure, which would not reveal the person’s gender and date of birth. In particular, this sensitive and redundant information encoded in personal identification numbers harm transsexual persons. The use of personal code is still widely regulated by sub-statutory legal acts, while under the Law on Personal Data Protection the usage of this private data can only be regulated by statutory law. The practice of processing personal identification numbers without consent of their owner is still widespread.

In order to improve the existing legal framework and its practical application HRMI suggested introduction of the minimization principle in the Law on Personal Data Protection. This principle requires that only the minimum amount of data which is essential for the pursued objective has to be collected and disclosed. Once again, HRMI recommended reforming the way personal codes are construed so as to avoid disclosure of sensitive information about person’s gender and age. It was recommended to prohibit the regulation of personal code usage by sub-statutory legal acts; to simplify the procedure for changing personal code, when a person goes through gender reassignment; to establish liability for illegal acquisition and processing of personal code.

Full text of the study in Lithuanian can be found here.


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L. v. Lithuania – a right to private life

“The circumstances of the case reveal a limited legislative gap in gender reassignment surgery, which leaves the applicant in a situation of distressing uncertainty vis-à-vis his private life and the recognition of his true identity.”

– European Court of Human Rights in L. v. Lithuania case


Proceedings initiated: 2007

Proceedings closed: 2011

Nature of the case: due to the State’s failure to enacts laws regulating gender-reassignment procedure, a transgender person L. was not able to complete his surgery and change entries in the legal documents

Outcome of the case: a failure to enact necessary laws amounted to a violation of L’s right to private life (Article 8 of the ECHR), he was awarded damages


Facts of the case:

L. is a Lithuanian citizen born and registered as a girl and given female name. However, L. claims that from an early age he began to see his psychological gender as male, and thus became aware of the contradiction between his physical and psychological gender.

In 1997, L. was diagnosed with transsexuality. The treatment which lasted for several years, including a surgical treatment, was discontinued due to the failure by the State to adopt a legal act outlining the conditions and procedures of gender reassignment. For the same reason, the ongoing change of personal identity documents was also discontinued – the applicant managed to get his name, surname and sex changed, but his personal code remained unchanged and identified him as female. As a result, L. was facing significant challenges in his daily life: he was prevented from applying for jobs, paying social insurance, seeking medical treatment, applying for bank loan, interacting with public officials, crossing the border, etc.

Legal proceedings:

In 2007, Human  Rights Monitoring Institute submitted an application on behalf of L. to the European Court of Human Rights alleging a violation of a right to respect to private life.

On 11 September 2007, the ECHR found that Lithuania has violated the right to private and family life by failing to provide legal framework for gender reassignment procedure. The Court has ordered Lithuania to adopt the necessary legislation on gender reassignment in 3 months after the judgment comes into effect. In case the necessary legislation would not be adopted in due time, the Court ordered to reward the applicant with 40 000 EUR in pecuniary  and 5000 EUR in non-pecuniary damages.

Lithuanian government appealed the decision to the Grand Chamber. On 31 March 2008, the admissibility committee has rejected the appeal and the judgement came into force.

Follow-up to the case:

Lithuania paid the damages to the applicant, but has not adopted the required legislation up to this date. In 2014, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe “noted with concern that all efforts made to enact the necessary legislation have been unsuccessful to date” and tranferred the case to the enhanced supervision procedure. Human Rights Monitoring Institute and the Lithuanian Gay League continue to advocate for the full implementation of the Court’s judgment.

Although the ECHR decision was favourable to the applicant, L. continued to face difficulties in changing his civil status records. In 2009 he completed a full gender reassignment surgery abroad. However, the Lithuanian civil registry office refused to change his ID number (which indicates the sex) and L. had to appeal this decision to the court. In 2011, the Court ordered the civil registry office to change his birth certificate records, and the Residents’ Register Service to change his ID number.

Case files:

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Documents related to the execution of the judgment 


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2009-2010 Overview

On 26 May 2011, HRMI presented its traditional independent assessment of human rights in Lithuania “Human Rights in Lithuania 2009-2010: Overview”, which is based on in-house research, reports and other documents prepared by government institutions, Lithuanian and international NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, media monitoring data, and consultations with experts.

In 2009, when presenting the 2007-2008 Human Rights Overview, HRMI highlighted the ongoing deterioration of human rights situation in Lithuania since joining the European Union. “We emphasized the direct link between increasing levels of emigration and lack of foreign investment, on the one hand, and unsatisfactory human rights condition, on the other. We called for expansion of human dimension on political agenda, in which, irrespective of economic prosperity or recession, the attitude of immature democracy prevails that successful economic development will lead to improvement in human rights situation,” – said Henrikas Mickevicius, HRMI Executive Director.

Public discourse and political practice of recent years revealed that HRMI was not heard. Instead of care for human rights, a poorly disguised or even proudly displayed hostility towards human rights became obvious. Human rights situation continued to deteriorate and the popular joke about mass evacuation seem to resemble the truth. Disrespect for human rights and the culture of intolerance were openly employed as tools in political competition.

The Overview highlights the most serious violations of the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to fair trial, emphasizes regress in application of principles of equal opportunities and anti-discrimination, draws attention to the rapid growth of intrusions into private life, and to restrictions on the right to participate in public life and freedom of assembly. Special attention is paid to an unsatisfactory state of the rights of vulnerable groups, in particular of children and mentally disabled.

Human Rights in Lithuania 2009-2010: Overview


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2007-2008 Overview

On June 10th, 2009 HRMI released the fifth human rights overview.

The Overview covers the situation of fundamental political and civil rights in Lithuania during the period of 2007-2008. It reviews the implementation of the right to political participation, the right to freedom of expression, the right to respect for private life and the right to a fair trial as well as various manifestations of racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination. The situation of a few socially vulnerable groups such as women, children, and prisoners, the disabled and medical patients in the context of human rights is analysed separately.

See full text of the Overview in English: Human Rights in Lithuania 2007-2008: Overview


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“Erika” case – right to respect for private life

Proceedings initiated: 2008

Proceedings closed: 2008

Case in brief: after completing gender reassingment surgery abroad, the applicant was unable to change her ID documents in Lithuania

Outcome of the case: following the court’s order, the applicant’s ID documents were changed


Facts of the case:

In the case of “Erika”, the applicant who underwent gender-reassignment surgery abroad was unable to change her personal identity documents in Lithuania. With HRMI assistance, the applicant filed a complaint with the court requesting to oblige responsible state institutions to issue the applicant with new identity documents. In order to safeguard the privacy of the applicant, the case was heard behind the closed doors.

Legal proceedings:

On 20 March 2008, Vilnius District Court granted the application and ordered state institutions to amend applicant’s personal data, including her ID number and identity documents. The judgement has been fully implemented.


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2005: Overview

On May 16th, 2006 HRMI released the third annual human rights overview. This overview presents the state of political and civil rights and freedoms in Lithuania in 2005. It addresses the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, civil liberties, discrimination, racism and other forms of intolerance, as well as human rights in police activities. The publication offers a separate overview of the situation of vulnerable groups, such as women, children, crime victims, convicts, and the mentally disabled.

The capacity to protect the right to privacy is facilitated through adequate awareness and the manifestation of the meaning of respect for privacy in the public domain. The general public, politicians, the media, law enforcement officers and courts still do not view protection of private life as an imperative and worthy component in the quest for democracy. In this environment, the use of video surveillance, which is largely unregulated, expanded rapidly in 2005.

Inappropriate practices within law enforcement agencies led to widespread abuse of personal data protection, where private information entered the public domain without legal sanction. Wide-spread public use of personal identification numbers created an increased risk. Personal identity theft became an increasingly worrisome issue. Events of 2005 illustrate the need for the establishment of an independent national institution, which would safeguard data protection within its mandate.

Regarding the right to a fair trial, the tendency of political interference in the work of law enforcement agencies and courts became apparent in 2005. Frequent parliamentary investigations led to violations in the presumption of innocence and undermined the efforts by law enforcement agencies to investigate suspected crimes. At the same time, parliament is increasingly hesitant to strip suspected MPs of parliamentary immunity.  Problems related to the lack of independence and professionalism among pre-trial investigators have persisted.

The right to freedom of expression was not sufficiently ensured in 2005. There were attempts by politicians to suppress the criticism from their political opponents by filing cases for punitive measures against them. The fact that the highest state officials regarded such public criticism as detrimental to national interests and appealed to law enforcement agencies for defense was a matter of particular concern.

In 2005, Lithuania made significant progress in improving the legal basis to deal with cases of discrimination and intolerance, which was particularly strengthened by the new Law on Equal Opportunities. However, Lithuania remains one of the most intolerant countries in Europe, with intolerance against ethnic and religious minorities rapidly increasing.

In 2005, children and women remained among the most vulnerable social groups. A matter of particular concern is the scale of violence against members of these groups. The fact that Lithuania has remained a country of source, transit and destination for human trafficking, with women and girls as the most frequent victims, is very troubling.

In 2005, the number of cases of inhumane and degrading behavior by police officers did not decrease. Proper detention conditions for convicted persons, their right to health care and social integration after their release were not guaranteed. The absence of an independent authority that could conduct regular visits to places of detention without prior notice also contributed to the failure to ensure the rights of convicted persons.

Similar to 2004, the rights of crime victims for assistance and support, especially in ensuring legal support and recovery of damages in cases of violent crimes, remained an unimplemented declaration. The right of victims of crime to be informed of the release of a suspect or convicted person from a detention facility has not been implemented either.

In 2005, there were serious violations of human rights in psychiatric institutions. The system of mental healthcare in Lithuania continued to rely on large closed mental healthcare institutions. This approach is in direct conflict with a modern health and social policy which is based on the principle of autonomy of an individual, bestowal of power, and the right to live in the least restrictive environment possible. Due to faulty legal regulation the protection of legally incapacitated individuals continues to be a particularly problematic area.

See the full text of the Overview


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Human Rights in Lithuania 2004: Overview

HRMI has prepared its second report on human rights implementation in Lithuania. The overview focuses on problematic areas and formulates recommendations for improvements.

This overview identifies the main violations of human rights in 2004 concerning the right to political participation, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, human rights in police activities, the rights of crime victims, prisoners’ rights, discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism and the rights of vulnerable social groups (patients, children, women, disabled and elderly).

The Overview has been prepared by a group of experts, and is based on the information and data from long-term HRMI projects, daily monitoring, including media monitoring, reports of international and national governmental and non-governmental organizations and public opinion surveys.

English version of the overview here.


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Human Rights in Lithuania: 2003 Overview

On 10 June 2004, HRMI released its first assessment of the state of human rights in Lithuania. The human rights overview pays special attention to under-examined issues, such as the right to political participation, the right to privacy, the rights of crime victims, and the rights of other vulnerable groups.

The report revealed numerous violations of the right to political participation, right to respect for privacy, the right to a fair trial, the right to property, and the rights of vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and crime victims.

Full text here.


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