President discusses biometric data act with EKRE leader

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Martin Helme and Kersti Kaljulaid at Kadriorg Wednesday evening. Source: Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia.

The head of state Kersti Kaljulaid talked over concerns Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme and his party have over a freshly-passed law which, proponents say, streamlines criminal investigations in terms of quicker access to personal data. The substantive content of the pair's talks was not reported.

The president wrote on her social media account Wednesday evening that: "Yesterday, after lengthy disputes, the Riigikogu passed the personal database systems establishment act. This evening, I met with Martin Helme, EKRE chair, to discuss the main concerns of the party that opposed the law, in relation to the unpublished act, the most."

 

The law, which passed Tuesday, has met criticism for its consolidating of personal data, including biometric data, into a single database.

Critics, principally from the ranks of EKRE, say that accessing the data would be too easy for authorities and would also see data voluntarily given for one purpose, being used for another – for instance fingerprinting data presented by individuals when obtaining a passport could then be used in the course of criminal investigations, unbeknownst to the individual at the time they gave their fingerprint.

The act passed at the Riigikogu following lengthy debate and filibustering from EKRE over an extra session held last weekend. Parliament breaks up for summer today, Thursday.

 As head of state, President Kersti Kaljulaid signs into effect acts passed by the Rigiikkogu, though her role also permits challenging them by returning them to the Rigiikogu for amendment, and taking the issue to the Supreme Court should this not resolve the matter.

In addition to being EKRE leader, Martin Helme is also deputy speaker at the Riigikogu.

 The act, known in the Estonian-language media by its acronym ABIS, passed by six votes – 56 votes were in favor and 38 against, at the 101-seat chamber. Fifty-one votes are required for a bill to pass into law, and the bill had in accordance with standard practice passed two previous readings.

EKRE and supporters had earlier this year protested a bill which granted the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and Health Board (Terviseamet) greater leeway in monitoring public adherence to coronavirus restrictions. With this passing, the ABIS was next on the list.

The interior ministry, which had been under EKRE's aegis while the previous coalition was in office, has denied that the legislation changes the basis on which personal data would be gathered by the authorities, adding that it is simply a technical and efficiency issue, i.e. the single database will be a more effective aid in investigations.

 This should also speed up criminal investigations, the ministry said, though no concrete example of a too-lengthy case, of a kind which should be avoided, was referred to.

Mart Helme was interior minister through most of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition's lifespan, replaced by Alar Laneman in the last few months.

The biometric data covered by ABIS has already been collected under the provisions of different legislation, ERR reports, while the intention of the bill was to solve the issue of both decentralized data and advancements in tech.

The bill did receive amendments during its second readuing, which includeed a provision that biometric data processed for identification or verification purposes will be deleted from the relevant database immediately after a "benchmarking" exercise.

Biometric data will also be removed from the various databases it had been held in pre-ABIS, ERR reports.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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