August 4, 2021

CML/Russia case. Costa refuses political responsibility “for something that does not go beyond the Lisbon Chamber counter”

It was António Costa’s second comment on the case of the sharing of personal data of Russian activists by the Lisbon City Council (CML) and it did not differ much from the first, made hours earlier. “Obviously, any breach of data protection is serious.”, said the prime minister, but there are two notes that he prefers to overlap. The first is that Fernando Medina, president of the municipality, “adopted the measures that were justified”. The second is that, even if there was a violation of the data protection law, the Portuguese position before NATO was not called into question. “Nobody has any doubts about Portugal’s role in relation to Russia”, he repeated.

The Portuguese prime minister made statements to journalists at the end of the 31st Summit of the Atlantic Alliance, in Brussels, and insisted on the main conclusion he draws from the story revealed by the Expresso and the Observer last week. “I don’t see how there can be political responsibility for something that goes beyond the Lisbon Chamber counter.”

As far as António Costa knows, neither Medina nor “any politician” had “any kind of intervention” or “not even knowledge” that personal data of protesters from foreign countries were sent to the respective embassies.

Welcoming the opening of an internal audit, by the CML, and an external audit, by the National Data Protection Commission, Costa recalled that the municipal executive detected and “corrected the situation in April” and “determined the adoption of new procedures” . Two months have passed and now the same CML “is conducting an audit to find out in how many cases” the data sharing occurred.

The results of that investigation should be known this week, in a process that goes back to 2011, when António Costa himself was president of the CML. It was in that year that the figure of the civil government in Portugal, a public administration body present in all the districts with functions such as the management of demonstrations, came to an end. After 2011, “competence was poorly transferred to city councils”, he criticized, which coincided with part of the mandate of Costa, who left the presidency of the Lisbon municipality in 2015.

The current prime minister does not recall that data from activists were ever communicated to other countries and embassies. But it also does not guarantee that this has not happened. “I don’t know if it happened, if it didn’t, I’m honest with you. But it was never the subject”, he noted.

On the situation in which Fernando Medina, successor and close to Costa, is, the prime minister did not want to elaborate. He only stated that “the first news sought to convey, or induced” the idea that “there was a collaborative practice of the CML in the pursuit and identification of Russian oppositionists”, making it appear that the autarchy “it was a sort of spy center for Mr Putin in the pursuit of opponents”, when, in fact, it is “an administrative practice that the chamber is auditing”. More than that, it is not up to the PM to comment. “Municipal power is autonomous.”

In addition to criticizing the initial moment when the case became public, António Costa reiterated the need to review the protest law, which dates back to 1974. “If you read it, you will see how most of the standards are no longer applied”, such as the prohibition of demonstrations before 7 pm on weekdays or the articulation between authorities and military forces. “The armed forces today are neither had nor acted upon in the process of regulating any kind of demonstration. Obviously, it’s a language of the time.”

The Government had already announced a bill for September on this revision, following the demonstration scheduled for the day Sporting was crowned national football champion.