Helsinki court rules police search of journalist's home was lawful

The Helsinki District Court ruled Tuesday that police had conducted a lawful search of the home of a journalist suspected of destroying evidence after writing an article about military intelligence based on classified information.

Lead investigators Janne Järvinen and Markku Ranta-aho. Image: Kaisu Jansson / Yle

On Tuesday the Helsinki District Court overruled a Helsingin Sanomat journalist who challenged the legality of a search of her home following the publication of an article on military intelligence that she had written.

The court rejected the journalist’s motion and declared the search fulfilled the requirements of the Coercive Measures Act. The National Bureau of Investigation said that it conducted the home search because it had reason to suspect that the reporter had destroyed material relating to reporting by the daily Helsingin Sanomat on the activities of the Defence Forces’ Intelligence Research Centre.

The journalist had reportedly called emergency services when a fire broke out after she attempted to destroy her computer with a hammer. Officers who arrived on the scene to investigate the cause of the fire then alerted the NBI.

The journalist had called on the court to determine whether or not the search of her home and the confiscation of certain items complied with the law. She said that the actions of the police were not lawful. Police in their turn countered that they had acted by the book.

Journalist to appeal ruling

Hearing of the matter began a few weeks ago. Following the verdict, the journalist’s lawyer, Kai Kotiranta told Yle that his client intends to appeal the ruling in a court of appeal.

“This is about the principle of protection of sources, which should be reviewed by the court of appeal. This case is not about a dispute over facts, but about principles,” Kotiranta said.

The complainants have 30 days to lodge their appeal with the higher court.

The court found that police were justified in conducting the search as a matter of urgency, without prior permission from the courts. It also ruled that during the search, police ensured that the journalist maintained the right to protect her sources.

Police search nets 19 items

The court also deemed that the journalist was suspected of revealing sensitive security information and that the search was meant to prevent the destruction of evidence.

In terms of ensuring confidentiality of the journalist’s sources, the court noted that a search representative was on hand during the exercise and that the lead investigation had given orders not to compromise the cover of any sources.

The court also found that different recording devices were still intact in police possession.

In December, NBI officials seized a total of 19 items from the journalist’s home, including notebooks, a computer and mobile phones. The journalist said that they contained confidential information from sources, but nothing relating to the story she had written about concerning the Intelligence Research Centre.

However in its ruling, the court said that the confiscated material had not been sealed in the manner required by law. The journalist argued that the material had been sealed, but said that police should have brought it to court for examination within three days of it being impounded.

Police: Search dispute delaying investigation

Police conducted the search of the journalists’ home shortly after Helsingin Sanomat had published the contentious article that contained information that had been classified as top secret.

The journalist whose home was searched was one of two people who had worked on the article. The newspaper is suspected of disclosure of classified information and the suspected leak relating to the documents is being investigated as a breach of official secrecy.

One of the lead investigators, Markku Ranta-aho, said that officials may not complete a preliminary investigation by April or May as planned. He added that the dispute over details of the home search has delayed police work.