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Provide the public with access to aggregate data from the Covid-19 information system

A group of 89 civil society organisations and the media sent a complaint to the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection due to the incomplete response of the Institute of Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut” regarding data on the health of Serbian citizens. Timely and complete information is of crucial importance for the conscious conduct of all persons and the preservation of health and the health system of the Republic of Serbia.

At the Coalition for Freedom of Access to Information initiative, on 9 July 2020, the same group sent a request to the Institute for access to information of public importance regarding aggregate numerical data on the health of Serbia during the COVID pandemic. -19.

We requested data on the total number of tested persons, positive and negative test results, hospitalised people, persons undergoing home treatment, people in self-isolation, cured persons, and persons who died according to the dates from the establishment of the system. We asked for data for the entire Serbia, according to people’s sex and age, and for all municipalities where these data are kept. Also, the CSOs asked for information on which authorities and other persons have direct access to IS COVID-19, i.e. username and code, i.e., state bodies and institutions the Institute submits data, which type of data and in which manner.

For most of the requested information, the Institute, in its response received on 13 July 2020, referred CSOs to publicly available database https://covidl9.data.gov.rs/. However, it cannot be precisely concluded that this is exactly the data we were looking for by looking at this database. For some data, the response reads that the system does not contain the indicated information, such as information on hospitalised persons – although the Government Conclusion prescribes it. In some cases, without specifying which information it refers to, the Institute asked for an additional deadline for submitting them.

As the Institute did not act under the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, the organisations filed a complaint with the Commissioner for the Protection of Personal Data and Information of Public Importance. In addition, since the Institute referred us to the government’s Office for Information Technology and Electronic Administration and the Ministry of Health as data processors presented to the public, CSOs sent requests for information to these public authorities. They should submit the response within the legal deadline of 48 hours, given that the requested information concerns the protection of the population’s health.

The Coalition for Freedom of Access to Information believes that the public must be and has the right to be informed about preventive measures and data on COVID-19 positive, hospitalised, or cured persons, as well as about deceased people during the epidemic. In that way, citizens become more aware of the seriousness of the existing situation and the necessity of conscientious action. They can make a more significant contribution to preventing irreparable damage to human lives and the entire health system of the Republic of Serbia.

Providing access to all available data from the Covid-19 Information System, except for personal data, would enable adequate information and strengthen trust and support for the anti-pandemic measures taken by the Institute of Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut”, other public health institutions and state bodies.

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