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Committee: Too Much Surveillance Despite Low Crime Figures

Rait Maruste
Rait Maruste Source: Photo: ERR

Rait Maruste, chairman of the Parliament's Constitutional Committee, has said that the Estonian Penal Code allows covert surveillance for too many types of crimes, and that too much surveillance is being carried out despite an overall decrease in criminal activities.

“Surveillance can be applied to roughly half of all crimes. This creates distrust among people. Crime levels indicate a downward trend and people's sense of security is increasing, surpassing the EU average. Yet surveillance measures are showing a significant tendency to increase,” Maruste told ETV on Monday.

Maruste said Estonia does not have a complete picture of surveillance activities and the related IT systems should be further developed to provide a better overview.

“It's a sin that during the 20 years of re-independence we haven't managed to create an all-encompassing IT system for the field - it is a prerequisite for providing relevant evaluations. The court should be more demanding in authorizing surveillance activities because, according to 2012 statistics, just 0.3 percent of [applications for surveillance authorization] were rejected,” said Maruste.

According to the Justice Ministry, 6,464 covert surveillance authorizations were handed out in 2012, giving the green light for 8,316 separate surveillance activities. The ministry confirmed that it plans to introduce an IT system by 2015 that would give a precise statistical overview of these activities, reported

Of the 400 types of crimes listed under Estonian law, covert surveillance can be used in 187.

The police have their own, stricter criteria for deciding when to use surveillance, mainly a product of their limited available funding. This additional internal filter could explain why so few surveillance requests are rejected by the court, said Aivar Alavere, head of the police's central criminal division.

Harju County Court Chairwoman Helve Särgava said the court has no reason to doubt the prosecutors after they submit applications. Estonian defense attorneys have access to all court documents, including the covertly surveyed material, she said.

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