Estonian government becoming more and more secretive

With small restrictions and changes to the law, the Estonian government has made accessing public information increasingly difficult. Another media restriction was just avoided because journalists unanimously protested.

Marian Männi
Marian Männi Eesti Ekspress, Estonia
Source: Eesti Ekspress
Estonian government becoming more and more secretive - NewsMavens
Hand on keyboard, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

As the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation came into force, it sparked a wider discussion about the use of personal data in Estonia. More specifically, the use of personal data by journalists.

According to Estonia's law, personal data may be processed and disclosed in the media for journalistic purposes without the consent of the data subject, if there is a predominant public interest.

The EU's regulation doesn't require the specification of "predominant" which could make writing about public figures -- and justifying it --  more difficult for journalists.

The Minister of Justice withdrew the draft law after a wave of criticism by the public and journalists.

This week's Eesti Ekspress writes about how, in 2000, Estonia had one of the best Public Information Acts in Europe. There were only 11 restrictions to the disclosing of public information. Anyone had the right to ask for any documents from public offices and officials had to answer within five days.

Over the years, restrictions to accessing public information were added and now there are 26.

This happened quietly, with baby steps.

Often the law was changed without any public debate whatsoever. In the opinion of the journalist and editor Tarmo Vahter this happened because Estonia lacks a strong spokesperson who would stand for more transparency. The other reason, he thinks, is because many lawyers in Estonia take Germany's model as an example. And Germany has a very strict law on public information.

Details from the story:

  • Many EU countries have had to review their laws on data and public information as a result of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation which came into force in May 2018. 
  • Estonia's Ministry of Justice prepared two draft laws: Personal Data Protection Act and Personal Data Protection Act's Implementation Act.
  • Both of them tightened the grip on the free flow of information.
  • For example, if somebody would like to get personal data about a person who has passed away, they would either have to wait 30 years after the death of the person or get a consent from the inheritor.
  • The drafts were withdrawn for now.
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