Court decision protects phone data from police access

The state may not use telecoms data to the same extent as before to solve crimes.

Estonia’s Supreme Court has found that the rules currently in force in Estonia on storage and use of telephone data by telecommunications companies violate EU law. To store data permanently is unlawful as it violates the fundamental right to respect for private life. This means that, in future, neither the public prosecutor nor the courts can obtain users’ call and location data from telecommunications companies for the purpose of investigating criminal offences. The use of such data is to be excluded as long as Estonian law on storage and use of data does not comply with EU law.

According to Uno Lõhmus, a former judge at the European Court of Justice, EU directives and EU jurisdiction do not completely exclude collection, storage and availability of traffic and location data. However, it is illegal to store and share the entire data of all users of communications.

Individuals can always demand information about themselves from a communications company and make it available to the judicial authorities if necessary.

The judgment concerns data generated by a communication device, e.g. a telephone, which makes it possible to determine when and for how long a connection took place and where the parties involved were located. This enables conclusions to be drawn about many personal aspects of telephone users. This type of tracking is considered simple, cheap and efficient.

According to the state prosecutor, the judgment will have the greatest impact on proceedings in which communication data is decisive evidence – as is often the case nowadays, because phones are ubiquitous. In certain cases, gathering evidence can become impossible. The use of such data has often been crucial for investigators and in many cases has made it possible to uncover serious crimes and save lives. In any case, detection of crimes is now becoming more complex, time-consuming and therefore more expensive.

Current practice goes back to a European Union directive of 2006. The impetus came from the terrorist attacks in London in 2004 and 2005 and pressure from law enforcement agencies in several countries.

 

Sources:

1. RKo 18.06.2021 nr 1-16-6179

2. https://www.riigikohus.ee/et/uudiste-arhiiv/riigikohus-riik-ei-saa-sidefirmade-kogutud-andmeid-kuritegude-uurimiseks-valja-noud

3. https://www.err.ee/1608251700/parmas-riigikohtu-otsus-voib-tahendada-osa-menetluste-lopetamist. 18.06.2021

4. https://www.err.ee/1608129820/uno-lohmus-kaua-tuleb-oodata-oiguse-kooskolla-viimist-pohioiguste-nouetega 04.03.2021

 

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