EKRE stalls Riigikogu's work over personal identification database bill

Chairman of the opposition Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) Martin Helme said on Wednesday that the party's parliamentary group intends to block the entire agenda of the parliament due to the bill creating a legal basis for establishing a database for an automated biometric identification system (ABIS).

EKRE opposes a bill that will allow the compilation of people's biometric data into a personal identification database called ABIS.

"Our tactic of obstructing the work of Riigikogu is not only to take breaks and give speeches on one bill, but we also intend to block the whole agenda," Helme told ERR.

"The maximum number of questions for all bills, the maximum number of votes on amendment proposals for all bills, the maximum number of breaks, the maximum number of speeches. And for other readings, each MP can speak for eight minutes. We have a few dozen bills on the agenda here. It will take quite some time," Helme said.

Helme started the delaying tactics on Wednesday and the meeting will last until 10 a.m. Thursday morning and then continue at the weekend. The party also plans to use the tactics at the extraordinary meeting convened on the weekend.

"Our aim is that this super database bill is not adopted during the spring session. And if they want to pass it, then let them convene an additional session on Midsummer's Day, we are ready for that as well," the EKRE leader said.

Helme said that in the case of ABIS, it is a collection of all other databases, which collect biometric data of the people of Estonia, such as fingerprints.

"In reality, the content is sinister. The content is the creation of a biometric database of all people of Estonia. We do not have the certainty that this database will not be accessible to foreign countries, the so-called allies. All the fingerprints and irises of the Estonian people, all this will be collected and what will be done with this Big Brother database, we have no good answer," Helme said.

The bill being handled by the Riigikogu will give the green light to compile biometric data of citizens into one large information database. According to the Ministry of the Interior Kristian Jaani (Center), the aim is to use the data more efficiently, but access to them will not be easier.

One of the goals of the automatic biometric identification system database, or ABIS, presented is the possibility to solve crimes faster.

Toomas Kivimägi (Reform), chairman of the Riigikogu's Constitutional Committee said Estonia should not be compared with totalitarian states. "Yes, we know how and how biometrics are used in China, for example. But Estonia is a democratic republic and no one has any similar plan, it is first and foremost to ensure security," he said.

Kivimägi added that the draft of the same system was already being discussed in the previous government by former Minister of Interior Mart Helme (EKRE). 

"This is the same bill that Mr. Mart Helme actually signed for the coordination round when he was the minister of the interior in October 2020. Exactly the same bill. And this bill received approvals from all ministries while they (EKRE - ed.) were in government," he said.

Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani said it is wrong to say that the aggregation of data will create a so-called super database, as Martin Helme said on Wednesday. 

"It will not happen. In the future, with the help of ABIS, we will be able to keep biometric [finger and face images] and biographical [name, date of birth, personal identification code, citizenship, etc.] data separate from each other. This is how people's data is better protected," he said.

The minister said the statement that separate biometric data, such as DNA, will be collected from people for the database is also untrue. "No new data is collected separately for ABIS. It is also not true that images of DNA or eyes are collected in ABIS," he said.

Jaani also confirmed that Estonian ABIS data will not be sold to other countries. 

"Estonia does not sell its personal data to anyone. Secondly, Estonia is already exchanging data with 19 member states to catch cross-border criminals. We are also cooperating to prevent terrorism and illegal migration. Thirdly, we only cooperate with the perpetrators," he explained.

Jaani said that money was allocated for the development of ABIS, €14.7 million already in 2017, and a large part of it has already been used or is in use.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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