“No to Phobia” statement on the attempt of the State Agency for Religious Issues to acquire personal information on clergymen from different religious confessions

Member organizations of the civil society platform No to Phobia would like to respond to the activities of the State Agency for Religious Issues which has recently requested different religious associations to provide it with lists of clergymen enrolled in these organizations. This information should include ranking of clergymen within their organizations, as well as other personal information, including copies of their identification cards and contact information (address, e-mail, phone number). We believe collecting such information with the purpose of its further processing is illegal and contradicts the requirements stated in the Law of Georgia on Personal Data Protection. The Agency also required religious associations to provide it with complete list of their religious building. As mentioned in the letter sent by the Agency to these organizations, such information is necessary for the implementation of the “Religious Map” project.

Personal information mentioned above is related to a person’s religious belief and is protected by the Law of Georgian on Personal Data Protection. This information represents special category of personal data and its processing without written consent of a person concerned is prohibited by the Article 6 of the mentioned Law, unless:

  • processing of data is necessary for the protection of vital interests of a data subject or a third person and a data subject is physically or legally incapable of giving his/her consent to the processing of data;
  • data is processed for the purposes of the protection of public health, for the protection of a natural person’s health by a medical institution (employee), also if this is necessary for the management or functioning of healthcare system;
  • data subject has made the data regarding him/her public, without explicit prohibition of their usage;
  • data is processed in the course of conducting legitimate activities by a political, philosophical, religious or trade-union, association or other non-commercial organization. In such cases the processing of data can be related solely to the members of this organization or to the persons who have regular contact with this organization.

The State Agency for Religious Issues is an advisory body to the Georgian Government and the Prime Minister and its main functions are limited to information, scientific, educational and advisory activities and researches in religious sphere. The Agency has no legal power to request different religious organizations to provide it with personal data of their members in order to further process such information. On another hand, heads of religious organizations have no right to provide the Agency with this information without written consent of the persons concerned.

In  March 19th, 2015 statement related to the evaluation of the “Strategy for the Development of Religious Policy of the State of Georgia”, the non-governmental organizations expressed their concern that further legal regulations of the activities of religious organizations, assignment of special legal status to the latter, as well as adjustment of their financial or property issues created risks of the State interference into the autonomy of these organizations.

Worth mentioning is the fact that instead of solving the problems faced by religious organizations over the years, the State, through its Agency for Religious Issues, presumably attempts to strengthen control mechanisms over these organizations and to tighten and limit their area of activities. Such actions contradict main principles of secularism and religious freedom.

 

Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI)

Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI)

Media Development Foundation (MDF)

Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS)

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)

Baltic to Black Sea Alliance (BBSA)

Equality Movement

Article 42 of the Constitution