Fernando Medina lost his seat as mayor of Lisbon last year, and was given a place in government a few months later Photo: MIGUEL A. LOPES/LUSA

Head to roll in Lisbon ‘Russian activists’ data-protection scandal

Someone is about to lose their job in the ‘scandal’ that saw Lisbon city council send the Russian embassy personal details (names, addresses and telephone numbers) of activists leading a protest against the jailing of Opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

It is not the Mayor of Lisbon. It is the ‘person responsible for data protection’ at the council (as yet unidentified).

Meantime, it has become clear that this person (who was following city council ‘policy’) has not only sent out information on Russian activists to the Russian embassy. He has furnished other foreign embassies (including those of China and Venezuela) with similar information on 52 separate occasions over the last few years.

Now that the inquiry into this ‘lamentable affair’ has reported on the full extent of the situation, Lisbon mayor Fernando Medina has announced various new measures’ to come into effect immediately.

  • The council is ‘extinguishing’ its ‘office for the support of the presidency’ (the office in other words that handled the passing of personal information to embassies);
  • It is delegating Municipal Police with the responsibility of handling protests and “promoting a robust external analysis of the city’s data protection system;
  • It wants the secretary general of Portugal’s secret services to ‘evaluate’ the security of all those foreign citizens who have had their data shared with potentially ‘hostile’ regimes;
  • It will contact each citizen personally, to give the necessary support for the realisation of this evaluation “restoring everyone’s confidence in the safe realisation of the broader rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic.
  • And it will henceforth seek a much closer relationship with Amnesty International. 

Said Mr Medina, the focus now is on the dual responsibilities of ‘getting to the truth’ and ‘adopting measures to ensure this kind of thing never happens again’.

The right to protest is enshrined in the Portuguese Constitution, and ‘everyone should be able to do this without fear’, he said.

It simply appears that with data protection laws, the council’s methodology of dealing with protests ‘changed’ and for some reason they changed ‘the wrong way’. From 2018 personal information of people organising protests outside embassies became shared with the embassies themselves.

The fact that Mayor Medina was in charge in 2018, and that he is where the ‘buck’ should stop has seen political parties call for his resignation.

One of the fiercest calls came from Carlos Moedas, the man who will be standing against him for the PSD/CDS/PPM/MPT and Aliança coalition in upcoming municipal elections.

Mr Moedas tweeted in the wake of the Russian activists’ furore: “Fernando Medina has only one way out: resignation”.

He seems, however, to have found another way.

Data protection lawyers have stressed the council could face fines of up to €80 million for just the Russian activists side of this PR disaster (click here)

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