Statistics Estonia to study people's movements during emergency situation

Public playgrounds and sports areas will be closed from Tuesday, March 24.
Public playgrounds and sports areas will be closed from Tuesday, March 24. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Government Crisis Commission has instructed the state statistical office, Statistics Estonia, to study people's movements using mobile positioning data to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The goal is to launch the project this week, Statistics Estonia said.

Mart Mägi, director general of Statistics Estonia, said the purpose of the mobility analysis is to examine how Estonian society has adopted the measures implemented due to the emergency situation.

As a first step, it is planned to analyze the movement of people before and after the establishment of the emergency situation on the basis of aggregated anonymous data.

Telecommunications companies, such as Telia, Elisa and Tele 2, are currently analyzing whether and how the project is feasible.

Mägi said: "When we come to an agreement with them, the processing of anonymous data can begin, which is strictly scientific. The data processing itself will only take place in the secure environment of Statistics Estonia. The data received will not leave our office and will be deleted after processing. The data of customers of telecommunication companies are still protected by the data protection rules in force in Estonia and the principles of data scoping and processing have been approved by both the Data Protection Inspectorate (AKI) and the Ministry of Justice."

Data processing based on anonymous data is needed until the end of the emergency to better fight the coronavirus and the data will not be used for anything else, the Statistical Office said.

"It is gratifying that all the participants in the project are considering allocating their resources to assist the state in making evidence-based decisions. We have been in contact with other European countries and have received confirmation that such cooperation and data use is already underway or is being considered," Mägi said.

Data Protection Inspectorate: This kind of release is legitimate

Director General of the Data Protection Inspectorate (AKI) Pille Lehis told ERR she believes this sort of tracking of people's movements is legitimate.

"In the current situation, and due to the overwhelming public interest in preventing the spread of the virus in Estonia, the Data Protection Inspectorate found that if a risk-based approach to data processing, purposefulness and appropriateness of data use is guaranteed, then such a release of data is legitimate," Lehis said. But added the study should use as little data as possible for that purpose and that it should be deleted after completion of the study.

The AKI allowed the data to be used by Statistics Estonia with the requirement the data is not personalized. "This means that both the name and the phone number have been removed from the other data, giving only the communications company the opportunity to re-personalize it," Lehis explained.

Lehis said the data can be used by the Statistics Estonia only for the purpose of providing generalized results.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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