State gradually gathering more personal data

A Huawei smartphone screen.
A Huawei smartphone screen. Source: Huko Aaspõllu/ERR

There are many levels on which the state is gathering and monitoring extensive personal data and the last week saw many new regulations and initiatives added that are set to restrict personal freedoms under the veil of protection.

The Ministry of the Interior presented a plan last week to require pre-paid and unverified mobile SIM cards to present user traffic. The Ministry of Finance also wants to collect all personal loan data into a single database. The opposition parties are looking to criminalize hate speech and name changes will have an investigation into the person's living situation and motives to see if perhaps they are living together with someone they want to share a last name with.

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise said there have been applications to restrict and increase social control measures throughout history. "Since the constitution came into force in 1992, there have been applications all the time, whether for security reasons or just that people would not get on eachothers nerves or live in a way that seems unreasonable for the application's creator. Applications have been presented," she said.

The interior ministry's deputy secretary general Veiko Kommusaar said there are clear rules in Estonia regarding data access and that people have no reason to worry.

Kommusaar said: "We clearly have very clear rules in Estonia for when this data is accessed and it is covered by so many authorizations and that will certainly give a guarantee for our everyday privacy. Noone has sniffed around behind our backs."

The justice chancellor suspects there has been unjustified access into personal data during the creation of the draft law looking to amend the Names Act. There may have been situations where an official has checked whether or not a person has changed their name to take on one carried by their partner. Name changes have been turned down for a common address.

Enel Pungas, head of the interior ministry's population operations department, said: "Trully, if there is doubt that it is not a freely chosen name but rather the last name of the person's partner, one of the options is to see from the population registry who lives with the person. In that sense, each official is independent in their decision. So officials have doubts and an obligation to research."

But it is not just officials or the government who are looking for new restrictions and regulations. The opposition Reform Party presented a draft law that would see verbal attacks on groups criminalized.

Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas said: "We just saw at a government press conference that there was no higher attention turned on these so-called statements to send people out of the country. There have to be sanctions if these statements have actual consequences on peoples' lives, health and public order."

Last week, the finance ministry also came out with a proposal to collect all loan information into one central database.

Paul Keres, who has experience as a lawyer for personal freedom, is not in favor of this stance.

Keres said: "I think this shows distrust for your own people and citizens, especially considering that the question is sufficiently regulated now already, because if you go to a bank and ask for a loan, they ask you if you already owe someone. And if you are, how much. You must give true data because if you give false data, that is fraud and a crime. So why turn it up a notch, I do not understand."

Justice chancellor Ülle Madise said things are actually pretty good already. "When I tell you we have done quite well, I mean that even with these coronavirus restrictions, the public still asks whether or not the goals of these restrictions are reachable and if they are sufficient to ensure economic freedom and personal freedom in a way that the person themself wants to."


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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