Supreme Court discussing EDF law expanding surveillance rights ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

The Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu.
The Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu. Source: Supreme Court of Estonia

The Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia is discussing the Estonian Defence Forces Organisation Act on Monday, over which the Riigikogu and President Kersti Kaljulaid have reached an impasse. The Supreme Court will be ruling on the matter yet, however.

Amendments to the Estonian Defence Forces Organisation Act passed by the Riigikogu on May 29 were first passed, in identical form, on Feb. 20.

With a March 7 decision, President Kersti Kaljulaid vetoed the amendments. On June 14, the president filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Estonia to declare the amendments in question unconstitutional.

According to Kaljulaid's decision, the head of state deems unconstitutional the section of the legislation granting the EDF the right to process personal data, including the short-term surveillance of individuals in the EDF's field of security in case of emergency and in order to counter heightened threats.

The Supreme Court will rule on the president's claim via written procedure, in the course of which both parties will submit written opinions in lieu of sending representatives to court in person. In addition to the president and the Riigikogu, written opinions have also been submitted on the matter by the Ministry of Justice, the chancellor of justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior, the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) and the Estonian Internal Security Service.

The first sitting in the case took place on Oct. 8, after which Supreme Court Justice Nele Parrest told ERR that the president's claim was a very substantive constitutional review matter raising constitutionally significant questions, as a result of which it would take time to find a balance between the protection of fundamental rights and significant public interest.

"It's rather unlikely that the date by which this will be settled will become clear today," Supreme Court spokesperson Susann Kivi told ERR on Monday.

Not unconstitutional, says justice chancellor

Commenting on the matter in September, Madise found that the amendments to the Estonian Defence Forces Organisation Act do not allow for the restriction of individuals' fundamental rights any more than the legislation currently in force.

"The issue in question is first and foremost who would have the right to conduct surveillance on individuals in defense of the Estonian Defence Forces' (EDF) security field," she noted.

Currently, surveillance and security authorities such as the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) have the right to conduct surveillance on individuals on Estonian territory.

Amendments to the Estonian Defence Forces Organisation Act would, in connection with defending the EDF's field of security, specifically expand this right to the EDF in case of emergency and in order to counter heightened threats.

"I find that the planned measures restricting personal privacy are in accordance with the principle of proportionality, and these cannot be deemed unconstitutional on other grounds either," Madise said.

Should the Supreme Court rule in the president's favor, the veto on the law amending the act in question will remain in place. Should the top court reject Kaljulaid's claim, however, she will be required as president to proclaim the law.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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