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Thursday’s papers: New intelligence powers under scrutiny, also, warm summer ahead? Nope.

Finnish dailies continue to unpack the government's move to expand online surveillance powers for local intelligence services, including crunching the numbers ahead of a parliamentary vote. Also in the news, don't pack away all of your warm clothing - you might need some this summer.

Rauman Poroholman uimaranta.
Don't hold out hopes for too many days like this. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

On Wednesday Juha Sipilä’s government unfurled long-awaited draft legislation aimed at beefing up the country’s intelligence-gathering muscle. Experts immediately weighed in, saying that the draft bill clearly needs finessing.

Capital-based daily Helsingin Sanomat interviewed two experts who both said that the government’s attempt to craft unified legislation governing intelligence-gathering activities still needs work. HS spoke with international law professor Martin Scheinin, who said outright that Finland doesn’t need such legal reform – at least not in the form proposed by the Interior and Defence ministries.

"It has not been shown that there are any shortcomings in the powers of Finnish police, customs and intelligence police," Scheinin told the paper.

The law professor said that he was especially concerned about the proposal to extend web surveillance powers beyond national borders, saying that it would violate personal privacy. He said that the bill could lead to a situation in which individuals would fear discussing terrorism online, out of concerns that they might end up on a watch list.

"No matter how often we are told it is not mass surveillance, that is what it is. Even if we conduct such surveillance with computers and algorithms, we are intruding on [individual] privacy," he added.

HS turned to another legal specialist, Jukka Lång, who participated in drafting the legal package as a private individual sitting on a Finnish Bar Association working group. Lång skirted declaring a position on the justification for the legislation, but said that it needed fine-tuning. He said that in his opinion the bill does consider individual constitutional rights, and added that it would not have an adverse effect on business operations.

"It’s important that the law does not have any elements that would undermine Finland’s attractiveness for international businesses and for IT services exported abroad," he pointed out. Lång disagreed with Scheinin’s charge of mass surveillance, saying that the package proposes only carefully-defined measures.

Government’s proposal would allow Finnish law enforcement to intercept cross-border web traffic, save it and read or listen selectively. The Helsinki District Court, the head of the intelligence police Supo, the head of the Defence Force intelligence unit or in minor cases, a lawyer familiar with the case could grant permission for different intelligence-gathering measures. The government’s draft bill will next be circulated for comment.

Support for intelligence bill hangs in the balance

Meanwhile tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat crunches the numbers required for government to pass what is emerging as a controversial piece of legislation. The paper notes that reforming intelligence-gathering legislation requires amending the constitution, something the government would like to fast-track. However that would require a parliamentary majority of five-sixths of MPs supporting the measure – essentially, it would need the opposition to line up behind it.

IS notes that the legal overhaul and government’s rushed approach have predictably drawn criticism from the opposition benches, with the Left Alliance leading the charge. The largest opposition group, the Social Democrats and the Greens have also condemned the draft bill.

A numbers game

IS calculates that government MPs account for a total of 123 votes. Since the Speaker cannot vote, the total number of voting MPs is 199. If all lawmakers are present for the poll, the government would need 166 votes to shift the reform to the fast lane. This means it would have to rustle up an additional 44 votes from the opposition – on the other hand it would require just 34 dissenting votes to torpedo the fast-track approach.

Moreover, if some government MPs are absent, Juha Sipilä would need even more opposition support. In the current parliamentary setup, the SDP has 35 MPs, while the Greens, Left Alliance and Swedish People’s Party have 15, 12 and 10 MPs respectively. The Christian Democrats have 5.

Daily dashes hopes for a warm summer

Addressing lighter, but no less important matters, the online edition of tabloid Iltalehti dumps cold water on hopes for a warm summer in Finland. The paper reminds us all that not only did the period around Easter feel colder than usual, it was – statistically.

Data from the Finnish Meteorological Institute FMI indicate that this year’s Easter weekend was the coldest in over thirty years across the country, with temperatures around five degrees lower than average. FMI weatherman Paavo Korpela described the cold as "exceptional" in some areas.

According to an optimistic old proverb, a cold spring could be a promise of a warm summer. Not necessarily, said Korpela.

"Weather in Finland is so variable that there is no known correlation between spring and summer weather," he noted.

While many may have already buried the memories, the heavens occasionally offered sleet instead of sun in the month of June for the past two years. In June 2015, temperatures were cooler than average throughout the country.

"You only need a couple of colder days for sleet to fall. It’s enough to have a cold gust from the Arctic Ocean for cold to set in for a while," he added.

According to the international weather service AccuWeather, the long-term forecast predicts a very average Finnish summer, with temperatures just above 15 degrees Celsius. In southern and central Finland however, daytime highs could reach up to 20 degrees, and hover on either side of 16 degrees further north.

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