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Report: Finnish Parliament purges visitor logs daily after court order to provide data upon request

The Finnish Parliament has begun wiping clean its external visitor logs on a daily basis, reports Svenska Yle. The practice seems to have begun after a court ruling in December 2016 that called on the institution to hand over visitor logs when requested. Parliamentary officials have denied any attempts to conceal visitor information.

Eduskuntatalo.
Image: Seppo Suvela / Yle

Since last spring, Parliamentary officials appear to have taken to purging the guest list on a daily basis, instead of keeping the data intact for years, according to Svenska Yle.

The practice of wiping clean the visitor log appears to have begun after the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in December 2016 that the visitor log should be handed over whenever requested. At the time Parliamentary officials said they did not want to hand over such information because it did not belong in the public domain.

Svenska Yle and the Open Ministry NGO both went to court to request visitor information to determine who had been going to the Parliament to meet MPs. They also wanted to understand which organisations and companies visited the legislature for the purpose of lobbying parliamentarians.

"Unnecessary register"

Parliament’s Administrative Director Pertti Rauhio told Yle that the visitor logs are now kept only for one day because they are "unnecessary personnel registers" and should not be created or maintained. He added that a visitor list should always be linked to some purpose.

He denied that the Parliament wanted to conceal visitor information and pointed out that parliamentary practice is now in line with that of the Prime Minister’s office.

"Others might criticise it but the practice complies with the Personal Data Act. I do not see nor concede any kind of duplicity at our office," Rauhio declared.

The parliamentary official said that in practice, the institution only needs a visitor list to better manage the flow of people in the building.

"Our security unit collects information from the visitor log so we can make sure that the same number of people who leave the building on a daily basis is the same as the number that came in. If there is a difference, then we try to determine who has not left the building and who the host might be," he explained.

Only printed information available

The new practice in place means that journalists who want visitor information must file a request for it the same day. However since such information cannot be handed out electronically, journalists can only peruse a printed visitor log on the spot.

According to Rauhio such arrangements are quite sufficient.

"It is difficult to see this as a matter of public interest, meaning whether or not we give information in printed form or send it electronically. We did not think it would be an issue of transparency, how information is provided," he added.

Svenska Yle and Open Ministry have lodged a complaint with the Helsinki Administrative Court about the manner in which visitor information is provided, saying they would like such information in digital format.

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