Carri Ginter and Sandra Teras: Once surrendered, privacy cannot be regained

Carri Ginter and Sandra Teras
Carri Ginter and Sandra Teras Source: Sorainen

Each and every successive national surveillance system causes hopes for even more intensive intervention. Surveillance is, after all, an effective way to root out offenders, making it wiser to concede on new highway speed camera systems before they are installed, lawyers Carri Ginter and Sandra Teras write.

Estonia's first AI-based speed camera has been opened along a stretch of the Tallinn-Tartu highway. In addition to the vehicle registration number and speed, the camera can detect how many passengers are inside the vehicle, whether the driver had been illegally using a mobile phone at the time, and whether or not the passengers were wearing seat belts, as per the law. 

The camera has tech which can scan the entire interior of the car, and which is connected to national databases, something which also allows it to corroborate the status of the vehicle owner's insurance and tax payments.

This data will be used to fine offenders, to the extent that a very extensive net positive impact on the state budget is expected. Via the help of AI, the new cameras will also link to others around the country. 

However, law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from this.

This may have more than a whiff of a dystopia about it in Estonia, and indeed, nothing like this has been seen in our country before. However, what has been outlined above is happening right now in the U.K., and it is this "broad potential" system that is undergoing a trial period, on the A23 in the Lambeth area of South London. 

The manufacturer's website said only a few days ago that "Redspeed Sentio is designed to be exactly the camera you want."

What kind of camera does the individual in charge of internal security want for your car? Which state camera do you want at your car showroom?

The message from advocates of the new tech is straightforward: The rules have to be enforced, but putting a police officer on every street corner is unrealistic. 

On the other hand, a representative of civil society expressed their position on Twitter as follows: "Speeding is my constitutional right!! Leave my right to endanger fellow road users alone!!" 

Some people also inquire why we are fine with entrusting our data to Facebook, but not to the state.

The core of the problem was most elegantly summed up by lawyer Sven Kõllamets thus: "The government always experiences the greater temptation and opportunity to abuse any amassed data, so whether this data is absolutely necessary (or how to make it so that it is not necessary)it is always a legitimate question; who gets to see the data, how it is is stored, what are the hacking risks, and how to arrange things so that as little data is as visible to as few people as possible, since our state is not created for regulation and control, but for the protection of people's basic freedoms and rights and opportunities to fulfill obligations... In a rule of law state, the people must first and foremost be trusted, whereas we are moving in a direction where we have suspicions against the people first; this is not our country. That suspicious, controlling and punitive country was known as the Soviet Union."

Simply stated, we have restored and built up a pretty awesome, diminutievf, free and progressive state. 

Not everything that the "old Europe" does should be held up as an example to us. 

However, we have recently discovered that already this summer, the average speed of a vehicle will be measured over two fixed points between speed cameras.

According to ERR', this is so far a methodological study, where fines will not be imposed during the violation.

While currently, speed cameras only take pictures of those exceeding the speed limit in one location, via on-the-spot measurements, under the new Transport Board plan, it is possible to monitor the journey of drivers with the measurement, and this is done regardless of whether the speed limit has been exceeded or not. 

As a result, instead of capturing the location specifically of speeders, journeys made by all road users would be mapped. To state it simply: Whereas until now the camera started its work once you exceeded the speed and thus broke the law, now the camera films everyone who passes it, however law-abiding.

Several points are in the plan. Priit Sauk, the director general of the Transport Board, told ERR (link in Estonian) that the situation will not be improved if the system is placed on only three sections of our roads, meaning the number must be significantly larger.

This means the installation of a larger type of speed camera system on our roads is expected. While the speed camera currently records where the violator is at the time of their violation, the new system would allow recording who exactly was on the road, with whom, and where.

It is possible that the destruction of that data is somehow guaranteed from an IT perspective, but then again, possibly not.

We don't know what the cameras' technical configurations will be and what the data access situation will be like. It has not been mentioned yet whether the image taken by the camera shows only the vehicle license plate, only the vehicle, or whether the people in the car will also in the picture.

A pledge has been made that the data will be deleted at some point, but it is not known when and under what regulations this will be carried out. 

What are the guarantees that the tech will not allow this "deletion" feature to be turned off. There is also the possibility that data gets stolen, during any hacking process.

The Constitution probably does not prohibit the installation of such cameras, a whole new thing for Estonia. However, this it the wrong direction in the context of our freedoms.

 It is not the state's business who I drive with, where to and when. The presence of a camera will surely affect the behavior of road users on any given road section. However, this also does not justify the presence of the camera.

The issue of domestic violence has been discussed in this manner in Estonia also, for a lengthy period of time.

Paraphrasing the supporters of the surveillance tech, a simple dialogue can be built up: "Do you think that domestic violence is acceptable? Do you think that a wife-beater deserves protection? The individual who does not beat a woman would not be affected by the presence of a camera.

"The recording is destroyed on a monthly basis, if the woman in question does not file a complaint with the police." 

A similar logic would justify the installation of cameras in the homes of people in a relationship. However, it is clear that any citizen who respects their privacy will not allow such a camera into their home.

The "old" European experience demonstrated that by giving the state a free rein to carry out mass surveillance, one can rest assured that one will not only get stopped by those speed cameras currently in the plan. This is confirmed by the same AI-based camera tech which has been introduced in England. 

The objections to the system being created are the same: It represents a horrific invasion of privacy. It is also obvious that the real intention of the cameras' installation is, primarily, to top up public coffers.

The above leads to a logical conclusion. Each subsequent national surveillance system raises ambitions for even more intensive intervention. After all, surveillance is an effective way to root out offenders. So it's wiser to throw in the towel on new camera systems before they're installed. Donated meters cannot be returned from your privacy, and it is not an unlimited resource.

It can be safely said that the Estonian state is, however, in reliable hands, and respects the privacy of its citizens. 

However, such a statement can be seen as short-sighted, since a system's architecture must be such that it protects us, even in the eventuality of the state's power turning towards the dark side.

If we don't build this system, there is hope that the devices starting to be trialed in the U.K. will not arrive here - a system which will record, with maximum accuracy, what happens in the interior of your vehicle while on the road, will analyze it and will be used to exactly deem what those officials who control the cameras at that point in time deem necessary. 


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kaupo Meiel

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: