Report: Pre-trial surveillance in criminal cases falling

State coat of arms at Harju County Court (picture is illustrative).
State coat of arms at Harju County Court (picture is illustrative). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The volume of surveillance carried out by investigative agencies in criminal cases has fallen in recent years, according to a report on ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera".

This is partly due to a tightening of requirements for allowing surveillance to go ahead, while at the same time, the number of prosecutions has fallen as a result of several organized crime groups being apprehended in recent years.

Despite former rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) being concerned late last year that his office was being bugged, the number of surveillance permits issued by both the prosecutor's office and the courts fell from 2,200 in 2017 to 1,729 last year, the report said.

Additionally, the number of individual criminal cases involving surveillance permits has fallen, following an earlier surge.

Dilaila Nahkur-Tammiksaar, chief public prosecutor with the prosecutor's office supervision department said that: "A great many organized crime groups are currently being prosecuted, which is why such a surge of surveillance in recent years had emerged."

Sixty-five percent of surveillance activities are conducted in drug and organized crime cases, which also affects figures, Nahkur-Tammiksaar said.

"There is an ongoing [organized crime] trial at the moment, with no new crime rings coming up," she added.

Of the surveillance activities carried out last year, 1,100 involved covert monitoring, with another 500 using phone tapping.

Nahkur-Tammiksaar added that judicial control over the granting of permits has also become stricter.

"The judicial control has been strengthened. Since the prosecutor's office is not going to grant permits in very straightforward cases, it is still looking at all other ways to gather evidence, so really this surveillance is still the last resort option," she added.

Riigikogu select committee: Nothing to worry about

Deputy chair of the Riigikogu's Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee, and former interior minister, Hanno Pevkur (Reform) said that according to statistics, surveillance is used in only one percent of criminal cases.

"There is an increasing focus on who is being listened to and whether there is any reason to listen in or pursue anyone. Surveillance is still the last resort in criminal proceedings - to dig so deep into someone's fundamental rights," Pevkur said.

According to the committee's chair, Alar Laneman (EKRE), there is no reason to fear being tracked in Estonia.

"There have been cases that have been discussed in the courts, for example, but the general tendency is still to say that things are good or at least rather good. So there is no cause for concern here," he said, adding that the decline in surveillance permits issued is also likely to indicate that law enforcement agencies are doing a good job, or even that there is simply less need for surveillance at the moment.

The original "Aktuaalne kaamera" segment (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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