Czech firms Avast, PRE, and BIS receive satirical Big Brother 2019 Awards

The Czech Security Information Service, antivirus company Avast, and energy company PRE received Big Brother Awards honoring the biggest spies of the year


Written by ČTK Published on 04.03.2020 15:26:20 (updated on 04.03.2020) Reading time: 3 minutes

Prague, March 4 (CTK) – The Czech Security Information Service (BIS civilian counter-intelligence), the Avast company and Prazska energetika (PRE) energy company received the Big Brother, the 15th annual Czech mock prizes for the snooper of the year, today.

The awards were given by the nine-member jury of the NGO Iuridicum Remedium (IuRe).

The BIS was selected over its bill allowing an uncontrollable use of the technologies able to discern faces.

Avast received the mock prize for the sale of its clients’ data and PRE for long-standing recording of clients at its branches.

Through the government, the BIS has presented an amendment to the intelligence service law, which was subsequently approved.

“There is the problem of the clause allowing intelligence services, not only the BIS, but also the Military Intelligence and the Office for Foreign Relations and Information, to create a sort of alternative data base of digital photos of all citizens from a number of state registers such as the registers of the population and of drivers,” IuRe director Jan Voboril said.

The intelligence and counter-intelligence services can then use the copies of the data bases of the faces, he added.

“When it comes to intelligence services, one can never know the purpose,” Voboril said.

BIS spokesman Ladislav Sticha said this was a “prize of human stupidity.”

In a letter posted online, Sticha said the organisers were irreparably naive.

“Today, with the prize you call on the intelligence service to be deaf and blind,” he added.

The threat of terrorism did not much change in the Czech Republic in the past years, while no major attack occurred “only thanks to the work of security forces,” Sticha said.

The photos are largely to identify the people who move in the public space. According to an order under the General Data Protection Regulation, the data are considered sensitive.

Voboril said there was still the problem of a “chronic, insufficient check of intelligence services” and the efforts to exclude the Office for the Protection of Personal Data (UOOU) from the decision-making process on the enhanced powers of intelligence and counter-intelligence.

Voboril said the BIS had sent such a reaction to its prize from which it was obvious that the BIS did not care for any discussion.

“You have awarded a prize with which you have ridiculed all those risking their lives for the Czech Republic’s security,” he quoted from the statement sent by Sticha.

The topic of using the methods distinguishing faces was of major importance in past years, the jury said.

It also gave the only positive prize, named after Edward Snowden, for the protection of privacy to the Prague City Hall coalition for its refusal to introduce the technology in the urban CCTV system in Prague.

However, Deputy Mayor Petr Hlubucek (Mayors and Independents, STAN) said the City Hall had not definitively rejected the police request.

Avast sells the data on the behaviour of its clients online, claiming that they are anonymised, IuRe said. However, the big companies which buy them can link the data with the identity of specific people, IuRe said.

PRE records the interviews of its staff and clients when concluding agreements and talks at its branches. The staff do not warn the clients and there is only a sign in the room, which can be easily overlooked. Besides, it gives false information on the purpose of the recording of the interviews.

The Big Brother Statement prize was given to Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) deputy Vit Kankovsky for having said that he was ready to present the legislation in the Chamber of Deputies under which the UOOU would be unable to punish civil service and local authorities over GDPR.

The competition, with its name reminding of George Orwell’s 1984, was held in Britain in 1998 for the first time. In the Czech Republic, it has been staged since 2005.

The mock prize’s goal is to highlight what the organisers consider unacceptable interference in people’s privacy by corporations and the public administration.

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