Thursday, 23 February 2017

Court: Access to totalitarian archives data not to worsen

ČTK |
12 January 2017

Brno, Jan 11 (CTK) - The accessibility of archival sources from the totalitarian era will not worsen, but researchers must take into account the protection of delicate personal data if they publish them, the Czech Constitutional Court (US) ruled on Wednesday.

The US has turned down a proposal opposing the exception granted to historians thanks to which they have easy access to the documents from the Nazi (1939-1945) and Communist regimes (1948-1989).

For this, they do not need the consent of the living people whose sensitive personal data appear in the documents.

In some cases, the researchers need the consent by the living protagonists of past events with the subsequent publication of the documents.

Due to the personal data, the Supreme Court (NS) asked the US judges to say whether the legislation is in accordance with the constitutional order.

Svetlana Ptacnikova, director of the Security Forces Archive, has welcomed the ruling.

She said if it had decided in the opposite way, this would paralyse historical research since no one would have access to some documents.

In their ruling, the US judges said the researchers should be responsible, which is right, Ptacnikova said.

The researchers must take into account the protection of sensitive data now already. This relates to the information on crime, health, sexuality, political attitudes and religion.

The chance to look into the archival documents from the totalitarian era itself is no encroachment on the rights of the people mentioned in the documents, judge Jiri Zemanek said.

Inspecting is not the same as publishing, he added.

"Making the archival documents accessible in order to publish is already subjected to the consent," judge-rapporteur Jiri Zemanek told journalists.

Zemanek said when it came to the documents from the totalitarian eras the Czech legal regulation was one the most open in Europe.

In its finding, the US dealt with the wording of the law before its latest amendment, but the current wording is all but the same, while only the numbering of the sections has changed.

Historians recently expressed the fear that an interference in the archives law would considerably complicate and slow down their work.

The proposal was also opposed by the government, which has argued with the need to learn historical sources and bring testimony to both totalitarian systems.

The law says the condition of previous notification of or written consent by the living persons with inspecting the archives data does not relate to specific types of documents.

These are the documents created before January 1, 1990 on the work of military courts and state attorney's offices of all levels, some courts, the National Front Communist umbrella parliamentary organisation, some archival documents of the German occupation administration and the documents which were of public nature.

The NS specifically dealt with the case of a man who demanded a compensation of 30,000 crowns as he felt harmed by the archives having revealed his sensitive data from his Communist secret service StB file to Czech Television reporters.

The state turned down the claim.

The NS stressed that it did not want to close the road to the documents to historians and that it did not question the need to examine totalitarian regimes.

However, constitutional judges are expected to adopt a stance on whether the broadly defined access to personal data is adequate and whether a more delicate solution may be suggested.

"Now, the NS will decide on the affair being bound by the US conclusions," NS spokesman Petr Tomicek said.

"This will naturally happen after the relevant court panel is acquainted with the very large and detailed explanation of the US finding," Tomicek said.

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