The fuzz around Estonian KAPO reviewSunday, May 27, 2007 at 2:23 | Posted in censorship, Estonia, information, internet, Journalism, Personal, Press freedom | 8 Comments
There has been radio silence in this blog for a few days but the site has been busy as you can see in the graphic screen shot above. The otherwise modest statistics for May have two peaks: one just before mid May connected to Hubertus Albers who prefers to appear under his artist name Atze Schröder. Unlike the German TV clown, the other peak these last couple of days associates to a serious topic: the annual review of the Estonian Security Police.
Some of my friends in the wide World have asked me what the fuzz is around the annual review. As I am a part of that fuzz in that the documents were at least partly spread out allover the Internet through my actions, this post is strictly written on my personal point of view. I am referring to some outside sources, most of which, however, are in the Estonian language. I hope you will appreciate that I may not be able to disclose all details in my knowledge partly to protect my sources and partly because the legal situation around publishing the files is contested. So I may need to “take the fifth”, as it were.
As Wolli writes here, the Estonian Public Information Act specifically stipulates that government agencies (both local and national) are under obligation to publish reports about their work and fulfilling their responsibilities in the Internet. They also have to guarantee access through the web as soon as possible to all information obtained or created in course of fulfilling their legal function.
The Estonian KAPO printed their annual report and distributed it to selected media outlets and their partners. The printed copy was also available for free for anybody who would ask. For some reason which can only be speculated, they were not even planning to publish it in the web.
Up untill a couple of days ago, KAPO
did not have the earlier editions of the annual review in their web site had the reviews up to 2004 in their web site. They have since hastily uploaded previous editions the 2005 editon but not the review for 2006 which is what we are talking about. Their freshest press releases were three years old and they had a list of wanted persons which was last updated in 2003. Press releases have since been added and at this moment they are almost up to date. The list of wanted persons has been taken down which is obviously good for the persons who were entered there but may not be wanted any more or may even have been found innocent.
These shortcomings in informing the general public through the Internet suggest that KAPO have been concentrating in their actual function which is protecting the country. If you download and read the review, I think you would agree that they are doing that well. Nevertheless, that is not an excuse for failing to interact with the public and make public information accessible through the web.
Many bloggers and IT specialists in Estonia were concerned that the country which has otherwise been praised for its outstanding achievements in the area of e government and e society (the first country in the World to have had a nationwide election with possibility for secure voting over the web) has a security police that does not seem to understand what the Internet is all about. Some of these concerned citizens got hold of pdf files of the annual review prepared for the printing purposes of the book. Their contents were identical to the printed version. Since there is not a single statement in the files restricting the use of them and the documents are public according to the law, some bloggers uploaded the files (Estonian and English) into the Internet.
Each of the bloggers, including Jaanus Kase, were rapidly contacted by the KAPO and asked to remove the files. The bloggers complied the request and for a short while the documents were not available in the web.
Having the two pdf files in my possession (how I got them falls under a journalist’s privilege to protect their sources), I was evaluating the situation in the afternoon of Wednesday 23rd May 2007. I had information that the KAPO was only interested in making the printed copies available. The documents are public and KAPO is under legal obligation (Public Information Act) to specifically make them available in the web.
Colorful parts of the document had been published in media, here a few appetizers by Eesti Päevaleht. There was definitely a public interest to have the files downloadable in the Internet. I judged that the public interest outweighs any other concern. While I understand that people who were asked by KAPO to take the files down did so for personal reasons, I think I would have been a bad journalist if I did not upload and link to them.
At 15.43 local time I published a short post with links to the two pdf files I had uploaded in a secure server. The post has been read during the last three days almost as much as my first post about Atze Schröder during the last 30 days. The interest has been beyond borders, both the Estonian and the English version has been downloaded heavily. (Sorry, I am not releasing download stats at this moment to protect myself legally.)
Within less than an hour and a half after my post was published, a somewhat odd comment appeared in the blog. It was a polite request to “block the downloading access to kapo’s yearbook”. While the Estonian bloggers were contacted by KAPO, this comment was signed by Ms. Evely Ventsli who indicated she was a project manager of Smile Group, the ad agency that had compiled the document for KAPO. Strangely enough, Ms. Ventsly indicated that she was writing “on behalf of” KAPO. No proper reason to the request was given, other than I had no permission from them nor KAPO to publish the documents.
Having made arrangements to secure the files (I thank a number of distinguished members of the blogging community for their kind help, no names obviously) and consulted a number of friends and colleagues, also having informed the board of the Estonian Journalist Union, I wrote to Ms Evlyn Ventsli asking on what grounds and authorization she made the request. I also pointed out that the files were public documents which is why I did not need consent of neither her agency nor KAPO to make them available in the Internet. I sent the letter at 21.35 local time.
At 15.35 the following day (Thursday 24th May) I received a reply to my inquiry. It was anonymously signed “Kaitsepolitseiamet” (the official name of the agency supervising the Security Police) but it was sent from the mail address of Evely Ventsli from the ad agency (firstname.lastname@example.org). This raises a number of questions, obviously.
If a government agency drafts and sends an official letter, it is signed by the appropriate official within the agency who is authorized to do so. They sign it with their own name and rank. Has Ms Ventsli been authorized by the Security Police to act as their mail box or is she a member of KAPO? Who authorized her? Was the authorization legal? Or did Ms Ventsli appear as an agent of the Security Police on her own?
The letter itself was obviously written by somebody with legal education. It was quoting copyrights under sections of the Estonian copyright legislation. It ended with an insinuation that I may be about to commit or have committed an action that could be prosecutable as crime.
As far as I am concerned, I do not regard the anonymously signed letter delivered through an ad agency as the official response of the Security Police. Neither do I recognize that documents that are public under law and should have been published in the Internet by the Security Police themselves would be protectable by copyright. I question if Ms Ventsli had any legal right to act in this matter. I am also asking, who exactly is claiming copyright. The Security Police or the Smile Group?
By now it is just academical whether I take the files down or not. They are already in so many places in the web that they can not be put back to the bottle.
Somebody has even made copies in HTML, MS Word, plain text and even Mp3!
For the moment the files stay in my server. I am going to take them down as soon as KAPO puts them up in their own site. That is what they should have done in the first place. Had they done so, none of this fuzz would have happened.
Update: Since KAPO have released the Estonian version on their own web site, I took it down. I am happy that the joint efforts of bloggers in Estonia and elsewhere have contributed to a reconsideration by KAPO. Public documents must be availbale for members of public.
I am happy to take down the English version as well, as soon as KAPO will have it in their web site.
Update: KAPO have now released also the English version. It is downloadable as a pdf file on their web site. Therefore, I am also taking it down as obsolete.