03.05.2013

Opposition's Motion to Restrict Surveillance Will Tie Hands of Law Enforcement, Says Minister

Interior Minister Ken-Marti Vaher has said that, if passed, a bill submitted to Parliament by the Center Party aiming to limit the use of surveillance tactics by authorities would hamper the work of law enforcement agencies.

Speaking on ERR radio on Thursday, advocates of the bill said that power of the police and the Internal Security Service needs to be kept in check, but coalition members say the motion could pose an obstacle for corruption investigations.

“The most important proposal of the bill clearly states that it would make surveillance illegal in second-instance criminal investigations, which means in principle that law enforcers will not be able to investigate many crimes in Estonia, such as tax fraud, corruption, smuggling of illicit merchandise, distribution of underage pornography and materials used to make drugs,” said Vaher.

The minister said that the more police agencies have detected and solved high level corruption and economic crimes, the more critics have called for these powers to be curbed.

Wire-tapping is used in 1 percent of criminal cases, totaling around 400 cases annually, said the minister, adding that he does not think this is too much.

MP Andres Anvelt said that previous changes to surveillance laws took place 10 years ago, when the Prosecutor's Office was handed more power at the expense of the police and other investigative authorities.

Anvelt said that criminal investigations, which may intrude on peoples' private lives, have to be monitored. But any new laws should be evolutionary, not revolutionary, like 10 years ago, he said.

Center Party MP Mailis Reps compared discussion of privacy rights in Estonia with that of Ukraine.

“We have no prime ministers in jail currently, but the debate on where a politician's political responsibilities lie, the line between their public and private lives, where businessmen may cooperate with political parties and where such collaboration is banned - that kind of legal muck is similar to that of Ukraine,” said Reps.