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Helsinki court to rule on legality of police search at journalist's home

A Helsinki court is set to rule whether police acted appropriately in searching a journalist's home after she published a story about military intelligence.

Hensingin Sanomien artikkeli.
Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

The Helsinki district court began hearing a challenge Tuesday to a search conducted by the police into the home of a Helsingin Sanomat reporter in December last year. The search followed publication of an article about the largely unknown Defence Forces’ Intelligence Research Centre (Viestikoekeskus). The article was based in part on information sourced from classified documents.

The search was conducted during an inquiry by the National Bureau of Investigation on behalf of Finland’s Defence Command. That inquiry is investigating whether or not a criminal offence occurred when classified information was leaked, and then published in Helsingin Sanomat.

The reporter challenged the grounds for conducting a special search at her home. A special home search can be legally carried out when it is believed that the home in question may hold classified information. According to an Yle report published in December 2017, around a dozen such searches are conducted yearly in Finland.

The court is set to rule on whether the police had sufficient justification to conduct a home search without court approval, and whether they had sufficient justification to seize items from the reporter's home.

Altogether police seized 19 items. Although police did not secure a warrant from a judge, they did bring an advocate to ensure the legality of the search and safeguard the rights of the homeowner. The items confiscated included the reporter’s phones, laptops, iPads and memory sticks.

According to the reporter, the police should return her property as they did not present the seized items for the evaluation of a court within the required three-day time limit.

The National Bureau of Investigation disputed this as the three-day limit does not concern the confiscated items in question. Instead, police said the items had been sealed in accordance with routine procedures, and not with procedure under the Coercive Measures Act that affects special home searches.

Story continues after photo.

Tutkinnajohtaja Janne Järvinen ja tutkinnajohtaja Markku Ranta-aho.
Investigating officers Janne Järvinen and Markku Ranta-aho. Image: Kaisu Jansson / Yle

The court decided the proceedings will be held partly in public whilst certain documents will remain sealed. The decision came after police demanded the court proceedings be held entirely behind closed doors, whilst the reporter wanted as public a hearing as possible.

The court will hear the reporter, the investigating officer from the Bureau of Investigation and the search representative..

In typical coercive measures cases, only one judge is present and the decision is given the same day, however the reporter’s case will have three judges present and the decision is due in two weeks.

Preliminary investigation into leak still in progress

On the same day that HS published the article on the Defence Forces’ Intelligence Research Centre, the National Bureau of Investigation declared it would begin an investigation into the reporting and the leak. The home search occurred the next evening.

Police are investigating the story as a case of disclosure of classified information and the individual who leaked the information could be charged accordingly.

Police have interviewed several individuals relating to the case, most of whom have been staff members of Helsingin Sanomat and the Defense Forces said detective inspector Markku Ranta-Aho. He refused to comment on whether police have information on the source of the leak but stated that the challenge to the home search will not affect the timetable of the ongoing investigation, which will likely be completed by April-May.

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