Official: No info that Estonian residents were under PRISM surveillance

Erkki Koort

PHOTO: Margus Ansu / Postimees

The Estonian Interior Ministry has no information about residents of Estonia having come under surveillance with the PRISM data collection program, Erkki Koort, deputy secretary general of the Interior Ministry for interior security, said.

Koort said people need to understand that in international information exchange it isn't known via what channels or by what security agencies information was originally gathered. "Talking about foreign servers or service providers, we have no control over their data gathering. It cannot be ruled out that when people have used foreign service providers their data has come in the sphere of interest of some foreign government. Estonia doesn't have jurisdiction over US service providers," Koort said in his remarks to BNS.

He said that special services of different countries were working together to prevent and detect crimes and that it was clear that one couldn't do without information exchange in today's international cooperation. "One's engaging in that cooperation in order to preserve and protect people's fundamental rights and it is legally regulated between countries. Prejudicing the right to the confidentiality of messages is permitted in democratic countries exclusively for the purpose of preventing a criminal offense or finding out the truth in criminal proceedings in cases set out under law and by means set out under law," Koort said.

He said that most often people themselves were voluntarily giving away information about their behavior and preferences, such as by allowing their purchases to be registered to a loyal customer card. Also the Google search engine is as powerful as it is namely because it records information about a person's preferences. "The said methods have been invented to offer better service to the people. With all service providers it has to be taken into consideration that when the state asks them to provide data under law or with the permission of a court, service providers are obliged to share that data," Koort said.

The Internet Society Estonia Chapter has issued a statement describing it as worrying that the special services of the US government have had effectively unrestricted access to people's private data on the web and demanded the Estonian government to ensure that the constitutional right to privacy was ensured for Estonians also on the internet.

Citing documents leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian which suggest that within the framework of the PRISM project special services of the US government have had relatively unrestricted access to private personal data stored in the servers of numerous US technology companies, such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Paltalk, YouTube, AOL, Skype and Apple, the Internet Society Estonia Chapter said it believes that also the private data and e-mails of Estonians have been gathered and analyzed under the same project.

Journalists at the Guardian have discovered that the data gathered under PRISM was shared also with allies. The only non-US security agency with whom such cooperation has been ascertained so far in the British GCHQ.

"The Riigikogu security services select committee must find out whether Estonian special services have collected information about Estonians in violation of the Estonian Constitution using the PRISM project or some other scheme of international cooperation of security services as cover, thus bypassing the guarantees set out in the Constitution, which requires that violation of the right to the confidentiality of messages must in the case of Estonians be endorsed in each individual case by an Estonian judge," said the chairman of the Internet Society Estonia Chapter, Elver Loho.

He saw potential problems also in the actions of the Estonian developers of Skype. "Should it be revealed that Estonian developers of Skype participated in building a back door or were aware of it, they may have behaved in an appropriate manner under US law but under Estonian law their action may constitute a criminal offense. That has to be checked by the Estonian police," Loho said.