Data protection and privacy rights – an Orwellian scenario
Events in June have demonstrated that Orwellian scenarios of universal surveillance are turning (or have turned?) from fiction into fact. The disclosure of systematic gathering and processing of personal data within the PRISM programme provoked an active discussion on values protected by Articles 8 and 9 of the EU Charter, i.e data protection and privacy rights. While the government authorities claim that the confidentiality of message and privacy of Estonian citizens have not been violated, the main local guardian of internet freedom NGO Estonian Internet Community remains highly sceptical about these statements. In their press release of June 10 the community maintained that “Gathering information through violation of the confidentiality of message even when conducted by the Estonian counter-intelligence requires authorisation of the court in each individual case. This requirement cannot be overlooked on any circumstances”, thus referring to such situations when information is in fact gathered by foreign allies. The release also included a call for the Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee of the Parliament to ascertain whether the privacy rights of Estonian citizens have been infringed and the police to investigate the possible offences committed by Estonian software developers working at Skype by installing back doors to allow NSA the access to the data exchanged using the programme.
2013 has been a busy year for the Estonian Society for the Protection of Animals in April in cooperation with the animal rights movement In the Name of Animals the organisation created a petition against the activities of the only fur farm located in Estonia, Baltic Fur (or Balti Karusnahk in Estonian). In June the unfortunate death of a circus elephant drew public attention to the often gritty conditions that circus animals have to endure. Using animals in circuses is allowed in Estonia provided that the animals were not born in their natural environment. However in the given case, the elephant was believed to have been born in the wild. Regardless of the several notices on the possible mistreatment of the 47-year-old elephant, the police and veterinary and food board failed to take action until too late. Exact causes of the death were not clarified and are likely to stay so. These events nevertheless caught received great attention and called for intervention as a result of which an online petition (available in Estonian at http://petitsioon.ee/loomatsirkused) was started against the use of animals in circuses. As of July 1, 11 232 people have signed it.
Throughout 2012-2013 issues concerning Articles 18 and 19 of the Charter have been more heatedly discussed than perhaps ever before in Estonia. This is largely due to the year-long project Raising Awareness in Society on International Forced Migration ran by Estonian Human Rights Centre and its partners which closed in June. The project was summarized in a special topic issue featured in the largest daily newspaper Postimees. The issue included a discourse of the MEP-s, essays and articles representing a wide spectrum of opinions and statistics aimed at disproving common myths and misconceptions, excerpts from the monthly online debates were brought out to illustrate different viewpoints regarding the issue. In relation to a recent incident where a Syrian citizen was returned from the border without considering his application for asylum, the centre has exerted pressure on the authorities to set up independent border monitoring system in order to safeguard efficient identification of possible cases of forced migration.
Source: humanrights.ee/pagulane (interactive information site on forced migration)
On June 7 the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights and its member organisations, including the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights, on the annual General Assembly in Tallinn adopted the resolution “Europe for All its Citizens!”. The AEDH alerted about the unwillingness of the EU still resolve the indignant situation of more than 450 000 stateless persons, mainly in Estonia and Latvia. Having no citizenship they often lack certain social rights. AEDH convoked the EU to encourage its Member-States to ratify all international documents and covenants in the field of statelessness, primarily the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and the European Convention on Nationality, adopted by the Council of Europe in 1997.
An active advocate of good adminstration practices (see also Article 41 and following of the EU Charter) Transparency International Estonia held a conference addressing the risks connected to the division of EU structural funds on June 5 and on 26th submitted its comments on the Estonian government’s anti-corruption strategy 2013 – 2020, stating that the increasing politicization of the public service jobs and the risks associated with it constitutes a serious problem and it should have been reflected on more intensely in the strategy, meaning that issues such as the protection of whistleblowers and concrete substantial measures for awareness raising should have been covered.
This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.