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Ministry seeks to expand police capabilities for missing persons searches

Search operation for a missing person.
Search operation for a missing person. Source: (Postimees/Scanpix)

The Ministry of the Interior wishes to amend the law to allow police to track missing persons' banking transactions in real time and, if needed, intercept their calls.

Up until 2013, police were able to conduct surveillance activities permitted by law if needed to aid in the search for missing persons. The Ministry of Justice believed however, that in such cases a criminal investigation should be opened and the law was changed accordingly.

At the same time, practice has shown that a person going missing is alone not enough grounds for initiating a criminal investigation as police may lack any indication of any criminal activity having taken place.

The Ministry of the Interior would now like to return these tools to the police by granting them the right to request missing persons' banking data, intercept their calls and track their phones.

"The state's hands are tied; we cannot do anything further," claimed Veiko Kommusaar, director of the ministry's Public Order and Criminal Policy Department, according to whom additional measures could bring results and help solve cases.

The Ministry of the Interior would first like to grant police the right to request individuals' banking data from financial institutions.

Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) South Prefecture police Capt. Kert Kotkas explained that it is precisely banking data that should be reviewed first in seeking a missing person. "We live in such a digitalized world and if someone is somewhere, they leave behind a very specific trail," he noted.

In addition to banking information, the ministry believes police should have the right to intercept missing persons' phone calls. "Currently we can actually determine an individual's location and see whether their phone has a signal or not," Kommusaar explained.

Thus police can determine whether a missing person's phone is being used abroad, for example, but not whether it is being used by its owner or by someone else.

With these sought after changes, the ministry hopes to make it easier for police to track down missing persons. Whether or not an individual has the right to disappear is another matter, however according to Kommusaar, the state should be allowed to maintain an overview of its people.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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