Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu replied to the interpellation concerning the spying on citizens (No. 450), submitted by members of the Riigikogu Mart Helme, Martin Helme, Henn Põlluaas, Uno Kaskpeit, Jaak Madison, Raivo Põldaru, Arno Sild and Peeter Ernits on 15 October.
The interpellators referred to the data of the Ministry of Justice, according to which 4596 phone calls had been wiretapped in Telia network in Estonia in 2017. The interpellators wished to know the reason why so many permissions for wiretapping had been issued.
Reinsalu confirmed that, in the Republic of Estonia, very clear procedural rules, including a procedure for exercising external supervision, were in force regarding such an important and intensive infringement of the fundamental rights as surveillance activities. “And I can assure you that, in a country based on the rule of law, the measures that have been provided for law enforcement authorities for ascertaining the truth are not used for political surveillance activities in any way,” Reinsalu said.
He explained that the authors of the interpellation had set up a claim as if 4500 phone calls had been wiretapped in Telia network in Estonia last year according to the data of the Ministry of Justice. “I want to emphasise here that the Ministry of Justice has never published such a number. This number has been taken from a report published by Telia, in which the relevant data of other countries are also provided for comparison,” the minister noted. “As far as the official statistics are concerned, as provided by law, every year the Ministry of Justice publishes an overview of the surveillance activities in the previous year, and it is completely public. And according to these statistics, the court gave 917 permissions for wiretapping telephones in 2017. In comparison, respectively, if we look at the five year dynamics, the number was 1047 in 2013. On average, these numbers have been in a comparable scale, with minor variations, over the last five years,” Reinsalu said. “The Office of the Prosecutor General and the Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee of the Riigikogu, as well as the Chancellor of Justice, exercise supervision over such activities in the Republic of Estonia.”
Reinsalu emphasised that surveillance activities as acts that significantly infringed the rights of persons were used only when other investigative activities gave no result, and the ultima ratio principle was followed, which was also clearly set out in the procedural law. Only court issues permissions for wiretapping in the Republic of Estonia. Upon application for a permission, the prosecutor’s office must convincingly prove to the court that there are grounds to suspect the person of a crime and it is impossible to prove the guilt of the person in any other way.
Reinsalu said that in 2017 the court had dismissed in part or in whole about ten per cent of the applications to wiretap someone. “This confirms that the courts’ supervision competence and authority of final decision are not merely formal,” the minister emphasised. He added that the number of criminal matters in which surveillance activities had been used had fallen somewhat over the last three years. If it is compared to the data on the number of surveillance permissions, the number of surveillance permissions has indeed grown to some extent, but this in fact confirms that the matters in which surveillance is conducted are larger, more extensive and more complicated.
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