Prosecutor: Supreme Court phone data decision may stop some proceedings

Prosecutor general Andres Parmas.
Prosecutor general Andres Parmas. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Supreme Court's decision prohibiting to request telecommunications data for the purposes of criminal investigation affects most of the proceedings where phone logs are the most substantial evidence, which could lead to the termination of such proceedings, Prosecutor General Andres Parmas said.

In all criminal proceedings in which a request for phone logs has been placed, the impact of the Supreme Court decision needs to be assessed individually and no generalizations can be made at this point, Parmas told ERR.

"We also cannot give an assessment of how many criminal proceedings this concerns. Undoubtedly, today's decision and the change in case-law will most affect proceedings where call logs are the most substantial evidence and that could mean the termination of those proceedings," Parmas said.

The Supreme Court decided on Friday that telecommunications data, which communications companies are currently obligated to store as the Estonian procedure for storing and using mobile data is incompatible with EU law, cannot be requested from telecoms for the purpose of criminal investigation.

Parmas noted that in some cases, the collection of evidence may prove impossible in the light of Friday's court decision.

"Considering that the lion's share of crimes is at present committed using communications devices, the detection and investigation of criminal offense will become more complicated, time-consuming and costly," the prosecutor general said, adding that this development will affect the society's sense of security and result in a smaller number of people getting help.

"Requesting call logs has thus far been an indispensable tool for us that has enabled us to solve many crimes. For instance, the Tallinn circuit court used data from telecommunications companies to convict Siim Haukka for committing numerous thefts in people's homes. We also solved that way, for instance, the so called baseball bat murder in [Tallinn's] Snelli Park, found numerous pedophiles, apprehended a number of drug dealers and solved countless fraud cases and other criminal offenses," he added.

Parmas said that it remains unclear at present how the type of criminal offenses that have thus been resolved through using phone logs are to be handled in the future.

"This isn't the first time a Supreme Court decision prompts the need to change our existing work practice, however. We've reorganized our work before and we're hoping that the legislator will introduce the necessary amendments to ensure that those who have already fallen victim to a crime will not have to suffer again," he noted.

Parmas highlighted that the Supreme Court decision does not provide grounds for reviewing court judgments that have already entered into force.

"The Supreme Court has also listed options for compensating possible breaches - how it is to be done will be demonstrated by future court decisions," he said.

Police chief: Criminal investigation to become more complicated

Elmar Vaher. Source: ERR

Police and Border Guard Board Elmar Vaher echoed the same view.

"Using communications data has been crucial for our detectives. It has enabled us to investigate severe crimes and save people," Vaher said.

In many cases, the use of communications data has led to a breakthrough in investigation, according to Vaher.

"The arrest of [medical director of North Estonia Medical Center] Peep Talving's attacker could not have been carried out this quickly without communications data. The same goes for the arrest of Lithuanian car thieves who had stolen tens of vehicles in Estonia over the past years. Or, for instance, for catching the criminals that are defrauding the elderly these days. All of this is very complicated without being able to use communications data. The damages amount to millions of euros by now," Vaher said.

The director general of the Police and Border Guard Board said that the use of communications data for the purposes of criminal investigation has thus far been clearly regulated.

"We only use communications data to investigate severe crimes and that is done in accordance with very strict rules. For instance, the detective first needs to justify it to the prosecutor and the latter to the court. It is very clearly regulated and this data is on the whole used in the case of very few crimes compared with the overall number thereof," he said.

Vaher noted that the investigation of criminal offenses will now become lengthier and more complicated.

"This situation is comparable to a doctor believing that their patient has pneumonia but they cannot order an x-ray and this definitely complicates the patient's recovery," he said.

"I deem it quite likely that some crimes, for instance harassing pursuit, will simply not be investigated," Vaher added

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Editor: Helen Wright

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