Ana Toskić Cvetinović, Executive Director, Partners for Democratic Change Serbia

The Rule of Law is Vital Ana

Partners Serbia is an organisation that’s dedicated to advancing the rule of law and developing civil society and institutions in Serbia and around the region, but also capacity building at the local level

Here we discuss with Partners for Democratic Change Serbia Executive Director Ana Toskić Cvetinović Serbia’s legal framework and its harmonisation with the EU acquis, the areas of Partners Serbia’s activities, the impact of technology on human rights and freedoms, but also the protection of privacy and other values that help close the gap between Serbia and the world’s most developed countries.

Could you familiarise us with your work by presenting the areas of activity you address and the services you provide?

— Partners Serbia is an organisation that has focused its work on three programming areas. The first covers the basic values of European integration, such as democracy, human rights, rule of law and good governance.

We believe that it is more important than ever to speak clearly and publicly about the fact that Serbia’s future is in the European Union today, when some of these values are being brought into question. We have called the second programming area “The Future is Now”, and within its scope we address the various impacts of the applying of new technologies on human rights, but also on the broader dynamics of social relations and connections between the state, citizens and the private sector. The third area is dedicated to peaceful conflict resolution, the development of a culture of dialogue and improving the applying of alternative ways of resolving disputes, such as mediation.

There is no area of life not influenced by technology today, and there’s no doubt that this brings us all numerous benefits, but that it also puts a number of rights and freedoms at risk

Our work implies analysis and research, conducting training for the public, civil and private sectors, drafting proposals for regulations and public policies, as well as providing support to organisations and others engaged in organisational development. As an example, we have helped numerous organisations establish internal personal data protection procedures, thus not only aligning their operations with regulations, but also providing additional protection to their users, who are mostly from sensitive social groups.

How do you view the impact of new technologies on the broader spectrum of human rights?

— There is no area of life not influenced by technology today, and there’s no doubt that this brings us all numerous benefits, but that it also puts a number of rights and freedoms at risk (privacy, freedom of expression, protection against discrimination, access to justice). It is particularly risky when decisions regarding our rights are made solely on the basis of algorithms and artificial intelligence, because the risks and ramifications for the individual should be appreciated in particular in such cases. The general impression is that we are today excessively reliant on technology and expect it to solve complex social problems. And this is, of course, an unrealistic expectation… The digital transformation process should be human-centred, and if it isn’t then the technology could ultimately do more harm than good.

How would you evaluate our legal framework?

— Serbia has developed a solid legal framework in the fields of the right to privacy and personal data protection, which is harmonised with the EU’s legal framework to a large extent. However, the difference lies in the application of regulations, but also in the penalties prescribed for violating them. In this sense, we can conclude that the penalties don’t serve as a deterrent to all those who don’t respect the law. Moreover, some areas aren’t regulated, such as the use of video surveillance and facial recognition systems, which leaves room for the uncontrolled applying of such systems.

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