At least dozens of protesters rallied Saturday to demand “freedom” from the recently enacted Computer Virus Information and Technology (COVID) legislation. If a new report is accurate, those demands are about to come true.
The nonprofit Foreign Policy Newswire reports that those who haven’t followed the law since the beginning of 2018 may soon be relegated to legal gray areas.
The law requires people to register their computer virus information with the Czech Republic’s State Computer Security Agency (ACSU). The agency can notify authorities about anyone who has or receives “large files” from foreign sources. The authorities then have to place a person on the national watch list, which places them in potential danger of being subjected to state security measures. Should the government choose to so do, an individual will be prevented from taking part in any aspect of civil society, including accessing email or Facebook.
According to Foreign Policy, authorities have in the past used COVID restrictions to “reach digital dissidents and foreign activists under suspicion of belonging to foreign organizations or groups the state considers a threat.”
The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, had been greeted with widespread criticism at the time. Critics feared that it would infringe on basic freedoms, like access to email and the Internet. In response, officials amended the law in 2016 to include a so-called “secret list” to prioritize the national security concerns of the government in question.
This week, individuals can begin to go on the secret list.
The media has widely reported on the possible consequences of not complying with the new law. At least 23 journalists and free-speech advocates have been placed on the secret list so far, many of them because of their opinions on government censorship. The Czech news site Playradio, for example, has been placed on the list three times, as have some activists involved in the movement to reform prison sentences.
As a measure of the potential power of the law, the list includes individuals of whom various European governments, including that of the United Kingdom, have no cause to be concerned — among them journalists with no connections to terrorist groups, reports Foreign Policy.
The European Union’s cybersecurity commissioner, in a letter to the Czech head of state, has spoken out against the new law.