Police in Sofia have been requesting personal data of all methadone patients in the city, ostensibly as part of an investigation into pharmacy robberies, reports in Bulgarian media said on November 1. The reports drew a sharp reaction from human rights watchdog Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which said that the Sofia police information requests were illegal on several grounds.
According to the reports, over the past weeks, police officers have requested a number of clinics that run opioid dependence treatment programmes in Sofia to present a list of all their patients. The request was authorised by chief inspector Ilko Iliev, head of the robberies department of the Sofia directorate of the Interior Ministry.
“This is an instance of police abuse of authority on several levels. First, the police are profiling a group of people as a priori ‘under suspicion’, merely based on their health status – the illness that is drug dependence – without any other data. This is illegal discrimination that stigmatises an entire category of people regardless of their behaviour,” the head of the NGO’s legal programme, Margarita Ilieva, said in a statement.
“Second, the police are targeting this group of people, collectively presumed ‘guilty’, in order to exercise inadmissible intervention in their personal life and breaching their procedural rights. Third, the police are abusing the ‘authority’ of the institution they represent by forcing a group of professionals – doctors are especially close to the most sensitive areas of a person’s private life – to break the law by participating in police abuse of the personal data of people receiving drug dependency treatment, who are already vulnerable,” Ilieva said.
Procedurally, police can request personal data of a person under investigation, and only when authorised by a court order. The police request, however, cited an article of the Penal Procedure Code that requires institutions and individuals to turn in any physical or data evidence “that might be of consequence” to an investigation.
The request was made because the substances taken in the pharmacy robberies were “specific medications used by such people,” according to Sofia police directorate, as quoted by news website mediapool.bg.
According to news website e-vestnik.bg, which first reported the news, some doctors had given in and provided the data, but most have refused to do so. The publication estimated the number of people receiving methadone treatment in Sofia at about 1000 and the number of clinics at 15.
(Photo: Bart Groenhuizen/sxc.hu)