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Surveillance bills delayed as parliamentary term winds down

In another setback for the outgoing government, two intelligence bills have been postponed over constitutional concerns.

A stack of papers on the military intelligence bill considered by the Defence Committee in late January. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

With just over a month left in the legislative term, parliamentary leaders have delayed consideration of a package of proposed laws on oversight of intelligence operations by civilian and military authorities.

Constitutional experts say that changes demanded by the Constitutional Law Committee have been overlooked in the drafting of the controversial legislation. It would give the Security Intelligence Service (Supo) and the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) expanded eavesdropping powers.

A full session of Parliament was to have considered the draft laws on military and civilian intelligence laws on Wednesday.

Instead, they were deleted from the agenda just a couple of hours before the afternoon plenary session was to begin. Their fate is now in limbo, with less than four weeks remaining before the legislature wraps up its four-year term.

According to a terse statement from Parliament, there were still problems with a report by the Administration Committee regarding the bill on civilian intelligence.

The companion report on military intelligence by the Defence Committee was also struck from the day's agenda, as the two bills were to have been considered in tandem.

Supo and Defence Forces would gain eavesdropping powers

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's centre-right government submitted the legislative package on intelligence to Parliament in late January, based on proposals drafted by the ministries of justice, the interior and defence.

The cabinet wants to amend the constitution to allow the enactment of legislation on intelligence gathering powers. Under its proposal, limitations on the secrecy of confidential communications deemed essential for protecting national security could be set down in ordinary law under certain conditions.

According to a government statement, the civilian intelligence legislation would be aimed at "improving our protection capabilities against serious threats to national security...includ[ing] terrorism, espionage by foreign states or disruption of critical infrastructure". It would give Supo beefed-up powers to identify and respond to such threats.

On the military side, the FDF would be given more powers to gather "human intelligence, information systems, radio signal intelligence and network traffic intelligence...related to serious international threats".

The Parliamentary Speakers discussed the draft laws on Tuesday and asked the Parliamentary Office to decide how and when the bills could be handled.

Another key package of legislation proposed by the outgoing government, a proposal overhaul of social and health care services and regional administrations known as sote, has also been postponed indefinitely.

Time is short as the legislature has a stack of bills to consider before its term ends on 15 March, ahead of elections in April.