Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Security Sector in Estonia
The security sector is often mistakenly considered only the Government’s playground while actually the parliament as the representative body of the nation has an important role in handling security issues.
The respective regulation which is in force in Estonia dates from 2001 when the Security Authorities Act entered into force (its preparation had begun already in 1997) and the Security Authorities Surveillance Select Committee of the Riigikogu is the institutional expression of parliamentary scrutiny The Select Committee includes representatives of all Riigikogu factions and two officials. The Select Committee plays an especially important role in the supervision of information collection activities because secret collection of information for the purposes of ensuring national security is a sphere where, with great probability, persons are not notified of covert surveillance and there is a risk of collecting excessive information. The activities of security authorities are mostly supervised by the Committee and other possibilities of parliamentary scrutiny (written questions, interpellations, Question Time, etc.) are used less. The system of parliamentary scrutiny of the security sector in Estonia is an activity with a wide scope of competence and a reactive mandate. The Select Committee inspects acts after they have been implemented and exercises supervision over the activities of security authorities and efficiency thereof and over ensuring of the fundamental rights.
Regular supervision of security authorities is exercised through the Prime Minister and the relevant ministers who submit an overview of the activities of the security authorities and of supervision over their activities to the Select Committee at least twice a year. In recent years, overviews of the activities of the Select Committee have been published on the Riigikogu home page and are available to all who are interested. In the opinion of the author of this article, these reports are formal and too general. More substantial reports would help raise public awareness of the activities of security authorities and would create an opportunity for a wider debate on security in the society.