Tech & Rights

Romania Plans to Gather Personal Data From People Buying Phone Pre-pay Cards

After the recent failure of the Romanian Police to locate a kidnapped teenage girl, who, after calling 112 three times, was raped and murdered, authorities now want to ask for ID cards from people buying mobile phone top-up cards.

by Dollores Benezic

The Romanian Government has released a draft of an emergency ordinance in which, among other things, they propose re-introducing the obligation to buy prepaid telephone cards only with an ID card, saying this would make it easier to locate people calling the emergency services. The proposal came two weeks after the Caracal case, in which a 15-year-old girl was abducted, raped and killed. The girl called 112 three times, but the police were unable to locate and rescue her.

Case of kidnapped and murdered girl rouses national anger

The case aroused nation-wide anger and revealed complicity between local politicians, police and crime lords. This came against the backdrop of already low levels of societal trust in the Romanian political class. After a series of dismissals and rather formal resignations, central authorities reasoned that one of the things that made it so difficult for authorities to locate the girl was the large number of non-urgent 112 calls made from telephones with pre-pay cards.

From here there was only one more step for the Government proposing to make it mandatory to provide personal data to buy a prepaid phone card. The measure was originally proposed in 2014, but it was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.

In an intervention made after the Caracal case, the European Emergency Number Association ( mentioned that in 2015 Romania had been invited to take steps to improve its location capacities through a free system developed in cooperation with Google (Emergency Service Locator (ESL) from Google), but that Romanian authorities neglected this proposal.

If you can call 112 from a phone without a SIM card, why should the government need the data?

Another national dilemma has arisen during the national debates on this topic. If smart phones allow users to call 112 even without a SIM card in the device, why is it necessary to identify the card holder? Especially since locating the call is done by locating the device, not the SIM card. Unofficially, however, it was found that in Romania emergency calls on SIM-free phones were blocked by the authorities. However, there is little detail on how the decision to do this was made.

APADOR-CH requested that the Government and the Ombudsperon prevent the adoption of an ordinance that obliges cardholders to identify themselves, given that, similarly to the law declared unconstitutional in 2014, this emergency ordinance does not guarantee that the citizens' personal data will be legally stored and protected, as long as pre-pay cards can be purchased from any street vendor.

Moreover, APADOR-CH is trying to find out how the 112 system works in other European countries. For example, can the number be called from phones with no SIM card in? If you know how this works outside Romania, please help us by providing us with the information in the comments section.

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