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Finnish intelligence to get broader online surveillance powers

Supo's headquarters in Helsinki.
Supo's headquarters in Helsinki. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Finland's security intelligence services are set to give broader powers to intercept data online, if a new legislative proposal published on Wednesday is accepted by parliament. The law would make it easier for the authorities to intercept information even when a crime is not suspected.

Intelligence officers need greater surveillance powers to aid in the fight against terrorism, according to a working group that submitted a legislative proposal on Wednesday. The group, operating under the Interior Ministry, is proposing that Finland's security intelligence police Supo get new powers to intercept information online and abroad.

In practice, that means that Supo and military intelligence officers would be allowed to intercept confidential communications, and to gather intelligence abroad.

Officers would be permitted to, for example, hack messaging services and break encryption in order to read the contents of messages between persons deemed a potential threat to national security.

Granting these new powers will require changes to the constitution, as well as the establishment of a new watchdog body to oversee the intelligence agencies' activities.

The report suggests that mass surveillance is not the goal, but that the authorities should always have suspicions that Finnish national security is at risk.

Finland has hitherto lacked an intelligence law, which meant the intelligence bodies have not previously been allowed to gather intelligence abroad.

Courts decide, but Supo or military intelligence independent where threat to national security identified

Work groups of the Finnish ministries of defense, the interior, and justice had found that the law in effect was outdated and did not take into account technological developments, which was why the change was desperately needed, ERR’s radio news reported on Wednesday.

“Compared to other countries we’ve fallen behind,” the Kauko Aaltomaa of the Finnish ministry of the interior said. Tuula Majuri of the Finnish ministry of justice commented that both laws regulating intelligence services as well as systems to supervise them were in place in most European countries. “But Finland does not have a system to handle intelligence like that,” Majuri said.

Work on the bill was based on the principle that in cases where surveillance was concerned, it would be mainly up to the courts to decide who could be followed, and that those subject to surveillance could learn about it at least at a later point in time. At the same time, the option is included that Supo or military intelligence may be allowed to follow people without court approval, and without letting them know later on.

Aaltomaa stressed that this wouldn’t mean that the e-mails of Finnish residents would be read, but that all intelligence activity had a clear aim to only pick up what constituted a clear threat to national security.

He also stressed that the bill specified very clearly whose and what kind of data could be used, and that the decision would be made by a court.

Supervision is planned to come in the shape of an intelligence ombudsman people could turn to in case they feel they have been mistreated.

The bill took three years to prepare. The Finnish government is now hoping to have parliament pass it in an expedited procedure.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: Yle News in English, ERR

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