Ministry: State holding personal data can be 'useful' for entire public

Enel Pungas.
Enel Pungas. Source: ERR/ Hege-Lee Paiste

Despite concerns over recent data protection controversy which embroiled the dean of the University of Tartu, retaining personal data in the national population register (Rahvastikuregiter) remains beneficial to the public, to the state and to business, an interior ministry spokesperson says.

Appearing on ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade suvel" Wednesday. Enel Pungas, head of the population operations department of the Ministry of the Interior, aid that the fact that the public's data is contained in the population register is "beneficial" for that public. "Should something happens to you, your close family contacts can be found via the population register, and notified. So make sure this information is correct and up-to-date."

Pungas told "Ringvaade suvel" that the state more broadly holds plenty of data on people, while the population register itself stores the principle data pertaining to people's main life details. "Whom is they are married to, who their children are, when they were born, where they live, what is their nationality, contact details, their native language, level of education, capabilities – a certain data set like this is very important to the state," Pungas listed.

At the same time, marketing emails need not have come from the population register, he added.

"I want to say that everything that arrives in your inbox is not from the population register (ie. not based on that data)," she said.

In fact, the population register has released data to commercial firms, apparently divesting itself of responsibility for what those firms then do with it, in terms of emails at least.

"We've released that data to two companies this year, for advertising purposes. So actually all kinds of other advertising is getting dumped into your inbox, but it's not from the population register," she reasoned.

Pungas noted that private individuals can also apply to the population register to obtain perosnal data in some cases.

It is up to a local government official as to whether the data request is admissible or not, Pungas said.

Private companies must have a legitimate interest in obtaining data from the population register, she added.

"Sometimes it is the case that while you will not be granted this information, the official will contact the person direct, to say that they are being sought after," he added.

Evaluating the release of people's data is a major task, he added, noting that the dialog on releasing data to the Pere Sihtkapital study which is at the center of the current controversy had "lasted for months."

"It's not like someone just decides that they want the data and everything then goes smoothly. These decisions are highly serious, and we really want to maintain the situation where data is used confidentially and correctly," she added.

In the wake of the Pere Sihtkapital survey saga, many people, including those canvassed in the survey, have started to make more confidential their data, where they can, as it is held on the population register, something Pungas said was "unfortunate."

"I feel very sorry for those people who have somehow been affected by this study. It's a very sad story. But I still maintain that the research is being done for good ends. For example, they may want to improve medicines, or call people to take part in cancer research. So it's for people's benefit."

"The data [used in the Pere Sihtkapital survey] did not go far, while the people themselves answered these questions," he added (around 1,000 women of the 2,000 canvassed, all of them women who have not had children, answered the questionnaire, it is reported – ed.).

"Their data did not go anywhere to be shared, save for the survey company that approached those people," she went on.

Ultimately the largest user of data is the state, Pungas noted – all state services use population register data, she said.

Banks can request contact data from the register in respect of its existing clients, while as noted, direct marketing via email seems to be seen as acceptable.

Pungas gave the example of targeted direct marketing of items for children, in which case a firm would request addresses which related to those with children, given that it made little sense to provide the same to an older person.

Contact details for around 2,000 Estonian women had been obtained by Raul Eamets, a University of Tartu professor, on behalf of the university and in connection with a study by Pere Sihtkapital, a think-tank with links to Isamaa.

The data was used to contact the women, asking them their reasons for not having had children. Around 1,000 of the women quizzed on this responded.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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