This episode is a continuation of the discussion with Olga Tumuruc, the Director of the Moldova e-Governance Agency.
Cu DREPTul: What would be the services or institutions that you consider a model in terms of digitization?
Olga Tumuruc: I believe, in the field of justice, the National Legal Aid Council is an example, because they didn’t take much time to understand how much they can optimize their time and effort, using electronic signature or access to real-time data. In the traditional way of providing public services, so to speak, the National Social Insurance House is also a model, which has an enormous administrative burden, because there are so many social benefits and its employees are somehow forced by the whole situation to optimize their work and whenever they can do it they do it by using information technologies.
It is also the example I gave earlier, including other services such as pension recalculation, which can also be done by applying online, or remember, a year or two ago there was a lot of hassle at the territorial houses because of the pensioners who were going in person to apply for pension recalculation. This is no longer a problem because it can be done electronically in a very simple way and, with some basic guidance from a knowledgeable person, pensioners can do it. Other model institutions… Well, they all somehow have some elements, but I see the National Social Insurance House as a champion because they probably also have this very high pressure that leaves them no choice.
Cu DREPTul: But who are still opposing?
Olga Tumuruc: There are some that oppose even in the justice system. Why? Because we have a lot of data, for example, in the field of justice that is used to work with in other sectors of public service delivery, at the Public Services Agency, the State Tax Service, etc. So these authorities need the data that is produced, generated in the field of justice.
Cu DREPTul: Such as?…
Olga Tumuruc: Such as data on court decisions from the integrated case management program or data on collaterals, other movable collaterals that are needed both at the Public Services Agency and the State Tax Service.
Unfortunately, we have information systems in the field of justice, but we do not have the completeness and quality of these data, or we even lack the willingness to provide these data to other authorities that need these. Even if we have the regulatory and technological frameworks and we have no obstacles in this sense, I don’t know why it is not wanted.
In addition, in the field of justice, I believe that there is still a lot of work to be done, in general, on the use of information technologies in the judicial system, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why we do not want to involve the whole ecosystem of information resources and the integrated case management programme, because very many judges do not sign judgments electronically, even though they have all the infrastructure to do so, they strike out the applications which have been lodged electronically, even though we have it expressly written in the law that a document with a qualified advanced electronic signature has the same legal value as one signed by hand. But we vowed to expressly intervene in the Code of Civil and Criminal Procedure, to put this in black on white, so that we would no longer have such situations in justice.
Cu DREPTul: Is this specific only for the justice system?
Olga Tumuruc: It is not a situation specific only to the field of justice, but if in other areas we have managed to change the perception of service providers or authorities towards the electronic document, towards the electronic signature, in the field of justice this remains a problem, because if you withdraw the application, this can seriously damage your right of access to justice. Especially if you are not in the country, for example, it can put you in a situation where you cannot subsequently defend your right, which is why I also see it as a very sensitive element.
Cu DREPTul: How do you explain this?
Well, I do not know how to explain it, because there have been many trainings, demonstrations and explanations, and I think that judges know very well that electronic signatures have the same legal value as handwritten signatures, I really don’t know how to explain it.
Olga Tumuruc: We were in exactly the same situation, as an e-Governance Agency, we had our electronically signed application for a writ of summons thrown out, and then we said it is too much. I don’t know how to explain it, but I think one solution would be to write it expressly in the Code of Civil Procedure, except it is difficult to amend all acts, laws and codes. There is an organic law, which explains and talks expressly about the validity of an electronically signed document and the legal power of an electronic signature, and this is also the purpose of an organic law – to tackle these problems of interpretation in other acts and we should apply it fully.
Cu DREPTul: How do technological developments reconcile with the law, because the law is a fairly conservative tool, as a rule?
Olga Tumuruc: If we develop electronic services, information systems without taking into account the existing regulatory framework, we will get into legal disputes, because if the provision of a service happens through an information solution, it produces legal effects and then generates some rights or deprives the person of some rights. If this happens in a regulatory vacuum, it is a problem and it is, in fact, the situation when the service provided through that information system does not produce legal effects. There was a period when we, the Agency, were so passionate, and maybe it is right, because we had so much catching up to do on the development side of this whole e-governance infrastructure – with identity, with payments, with data exchange, with the cloud, we had so much work and catching up to do here, that somehow we left the legal framework behind.
And when we saw that we could not move forward, especially in the Republic of Moldova, where if it is not written somewhere in a law or in the Constitution that you have to, you have no chance of success, we understood this and we changed our strategy a bit, we started to regulate everything that is developed as a solution and information systems.
And this is right, because when a solution, an application is used by a private company or in relations between private parties, it is at their discretion what they regulate and how; how they get along, that’s what they do, but when we come up with solutions that will help to carry out some functions of the State, will generate some rights, some obligations, will intermediate communication between the State and the citizen, obviously we have to regulate them and obviously, we have to work in parallel.
And this is exactly what we are doing – we are developing a very good information system, in parallel we are also working on the regulatory framework, which comes as a support: what is this system, how is it optimized, what are the roles, what rights or obligations does it generate and so on. The technology and the law must go hand in hand.
Cu DREPTul: But how do technologies reconcile with human rights? If you weigh technologies and what the humans have to gain by facilitating everything, but also what they have to lose…
Olga Tumuruc: Of course the technologies come with certain risks; any change comes with certain risks. However, our mission is to balance them, to come up with tools that would still allow us to reconcile technologies and rights and privacy.
Somehow, every time we try to look, including from the people’s perspective, what would change that, what rights would it affect, what should we do to protect.
Maybe a lot of people are upset that we, for example, configure access to certain public services on the basis of electronic identity, they are upset because somehow until now the electronic signature, which is, in fact, the key element of secure access to a public service, was perhaps less accessible, you had to pay for the mobile signature, but this is the identity of the person in the electronic space, in the digital space, and any action one does is conscious, including one even assumes this behavior in the digital space. In doing so, we also ensure that another person’s rights are not violated, that applications are not submitted on behalf of other people or to the detriment of other people, which is why we also try to balance.
Or if we talk about data processing, because if we look at electronic public services, obviously we cannot talk about documents, papers, certificates, we must replace them with data, which are processed in various information systems through which these electronic services are provided.
And how do we try to balance the right to process this data with the right to privacy? We try to limit data processing strictly to the objective, purpose or need, the problem to be solved.
In our country, in the Republic of Moldova, many authorities have become accustomed to processing huge volumes of data, whether they need it or not, they had access to an extraordinary volume of data and when we came up with the Law on Data Exchange and Interoperability together with the National Centre for Personal Data Protection and asked them ‘to explain why do they need this data and what type of data do they need, many people could not answer or could not tell us or formulate exactly what kind of data they need. What do you mean what kind of data? Access to State Population Register. No! You only need to review the application for indemnity; you don’t need the person’s height, you don’t need their weight, you don’t need their eye color, you don’t need their blood type, you only need their first name, surname, relationship status and address. These are 4-5 fields, not 20 fields that are in the State Population Register.
It was a matter of balancing and changing the way of working, and it was very difficult to do that, because a lot of people were not even used to analyze in detail and so thoroughly what they had to do, as they were put in the situation to analyze their processes.
We have changed this perspective precisely because of the imperative to ensure the protection of person’s rights.
At the same time, we also created a mechanism, if we are talking about data processing, in which the citizen is informed about which authority has processed the personal data, for what purpose, what is its legal mandate in this regard, on what date it did it and any one can verify it by accessing the personal cabinet. This is a very good tool for monitoring and holding the authorities accountable, because they know that their actions are transparent and, subsequently, citizens, if they understand that – I did not interact as such with this bank, I did not go to them to apply for a loan, for example, why they processed my data; this is a very good control mechanism.
Cu DREPTul: Justice is a large and complex field, but even so, if we were to generalize, how digitized is the justice system?
Olga Tumuruc: You are very right. Justice is a very large field, with a lot of actors involved – prosecutors, prosecuting authorities, courts – many actors involved, and it is quite difficult to ensure a synergy between these actors even in the normal way, apart from digitization, they all should work to provide service to citizens, to deliver the act of justice. As for the level of digitization in the justice sector, something has been done, we have different initiatives at the level of prosecution bodies, and at the level of the prosecutor’s office, and at the level of the courts, but somehow we just don’t have them integrated yet.
Something is being done in one direction, something is being done in another direction, but to ensure this qualitative leap, we need to integrate them.
Once a criminal prosecution file has been initiated, it must pass electronically through all the links in the judicial system, up to the bailiffs, who ensure the enforcement of a judgment issued. We don’t have this integration yet, and I think we don’t have it because of the complexity of this system, because every step that has to be taken has to be regulated, and we have some very big dependencies that still don’t ensure the system-wide integration of all these solutions.
Cu DREPTul: In the context of justice reform, to what extent should the system technologies be taken into account?
Olga Tumuruc: Certainly, if we want to reform the judicial system, we have to do it having the technologies, systems and information solutions in mind, because a lot of ideas could come from there: how to reform better, how to optimize better, otherwise, we will go back to phase zero with everything we have done on digitization, we will reform the judicial system and then we will have to rewrite everything we have written and developed and piloted for years. When we have a so called command center or an implementation unit on justice or digitization in the field of justice that deals only with that and has all the mandate and support, and support from all, because we can have It and have all the mandate and support from all the actors involved. It would be much easier to have this integration across all justice systems and a defined and formatted end-to-end digital electronic process.
This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.