Hillar Petersen, head of a foundation which obtained personal data on over a thousand Estonian women and in infringement of the regulations, has said that he accepts that errors were made, and that solutions are being sought after.
Dean of the University of Tartu Raul Eamets, who made the actual request, also concedes he made a mistake in signing an agreement on behalf of the university to obtain personal data of around 2,000 Estonian women, held by the national population register (Rahvastikuregister), and to be used in University of Tartu research into factors behind childlessness on the part of women in Estonia.
"I rushed ahead of things," he said.
Personal data is issued only in the case of legitimate interest and only to an individual performing a public task, or to a service provider based on a contract.
Examples would include universities conducting scientific research, the Police and Border Guard Board, and debt collection agencies.
As a result, Pere Sihtkapital required an agreement with the University of Tartu to obtain the personal data regarding childless women, from the population register, to be used in the proposed study.
This application was carried out by Eamets alone, in his dual role as dean of the university and as Pere Sihtkapital supervisory board member.
Pere Sihtkapital chief Hillar Petersen say they were unaware that it was necessary to wait for permission with regard to the initial data collection.
The requirement is the result of a legislative amendment which came into effect this year.
In the case of policy-making studies, permission must also be obtained from the Data Protection Inspectorate (AKI).
In the Pere Sihtkapital case, the inspectorate assessed the project as being a scientific study, which would as a result require permission from the University of Tartu's human research ethics committee (Tartu Ülikooli inimuuringute eetikakomitee).
While Pere Sihtkapital did file a permit application, they did not wait for its approval before commencing the study, a move which Petersen descries as "a slip-up."
"In any case, we accept this mistake and will try to find solutions," Petersen added.
Market research firm RAIT Faktum & Ariko, which conducted the survey, took a sample of around 2,000 women, obtaining responses from slightly more than half of the total.
Pere Sihtkapital only found out about the infringement of personal data protection regulations via Friday's edition of ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK), and as a result halted the study until the circumstances have been clarified.
What will happen to the data collected so far has not yet been decided, though the possibility exists that it will be "deleted as if it had never existed," Petersen said.
RAIT Faktum & Ariko said they were merely conducting the survey as instructed.
"We didn't request these data ourselves. We also told Pere Sihtkapital relatively early on in the processes that we couldn't obtain this from the population register anyway. We said that if they wanted to do so, they would have to deal with it themselves. after some time had passed we received a message to the effect that everything was fine, the data has been received. At that point they told us that we can commence with the survey," Lise-Christelle Ester, head of RAIT Faktum & Ariko, told AK.
Pere Sihtkapital's main aims are to to help ensure the sustainability of the Estonian population and nation state, based on the constitutional requirement for this to take place, the organization says on its website.
The organization has close ties to opposition party Isamaa.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming
Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', reporter Merilin Pärli.