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Yle MOT: Supo to get Big Brother-type muscle

Finnish authorities are moving ahead with plans to give security and intelligence officials web surveillance powers, says Yle’s investigative journalism programme. According to MOT the move follows revelations by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed extensive global intelligence programmes involving governments and telecoms companies, but in which Finland was not involved.

Tietokoneen näppäimistö.
Image: Miia Roivainen / Yle

According to MOT’s reporters, the government led by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has set three government ministries the task of amending existing legislation to allow the army and security and intelligence police Supo to engage in online intelligence gathering.

"When we have reasonable cause to assume that a certain individual is guilty of a crime, then we can focus measures that are appropriate in the situation to investigate their activities online; but we always need concrete evidence of the existence or commission of a crime," Supo deputy chief Petri Knape told MOT.

Pre-emptive intelligence gathering

What the Prime Minister and his government aim to do, is to allow organisations like Supo to engage in online surveillance even before a crime is suspected.

"From a national security perspective, security officials are automatically late if our powers and data gathering capabilities are effectively only possible when an offence is already being committed or has been committed," Knape pointed out.

"Web surveillance is a quick and affordable way to gather information, because the costs of data transfer and storage have fallen so radically that it seems inexpensive in relation to the unit of information," observed international law and human rights expert, Professor Martin Scheinin of the European University Institute.

"Whether or not this can prevent terrorism is another matter altogether. For example now that Finland and others in Europe are vigorously pursuing new methods of online surveillance following the terror attacks in France, it’s easy to overlook the fact that French officials already have very wide powers of mass surveillance, yet they don’t seem to have offered any advantages in the current situation," Scheinin remarked.

Paris attacks a catalyst for action

Following deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last November, the government launched an initiative involving the ministries of Justice, Defence and the Interior aimed at amending the constitution to allow more effective civilian and military intelligence.

Critics of the idea have pointed to the potential to erode citizens’ fundamental right to privacy – including privacy of personal communications. In its current form, the Finnish constitution guarantees the protection of personal information.

Also following the terrorist strike in France, Interior Minister Petteri Orpo called for a speedy reform of current legislation to give the police and military the power to gather intelligence online. At the time Orpo said that legislators would ensure that individual rights and privacy would not be violated.

"No one will need to track the communications traffic of a regular honest person," the minister said.

Yle’s investigative journalism programme MOT looks at the issue (in Finnish) Monday evening from 8.00 pm on Yle TV1. The programme can also be seen online on Yle Areena after initial broadcast.

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