Effi: Legislative initiative to protect privacy and whistle-blowers

Press release
Electronic Frontier Finland ry
Free for publishing immediately
Helsinki, July 8th, 2013

Electronic Frontier Finland ry (Effi) has submitted today with support from Avoin Ministeriö a citizens’ legislative initiative, titled “Yes We Can – The law for safeguarding of freedom of expression and privacy internationally”, to the Ministry of Justice. If the initiative collects 50 000 names, the Finnish parliament is obliged to vote on the proposal. The initiative criminalizes spying on citizens, requires authorities and enterprises to report on the collection and utilization of citizens’ data, and enhances significantly protection of whistle-blowers in Finland.

Effi’s vice chairman Ville Oksanen states: “We are tired of officials and especially politicians being totally inactive in these matters. Working groups and endless discussions are not going to solve the problem, they are just used to hide the matter from the public discussion. With this initiative we want to show that with sufficient political will it is possible to provide protection and significantly improve citizens’ position against excessive surveillance.” Oksanen continues: “Similarly, the initiative would address the gaps that prevent whistle-blowers, such as Edward Snowden, from gaining reliable protection in Finland.”

The Lex Snowden initiative has three main elements. Firstly, it adds new articles to the Criminal Code to criminalize excessive surveillance of citizens. This crime would be defined as a so-called universal crime, which means it would be possible to prosecute in Finland even if the act had taken place in another country. Penalties would also be available against companies that participate in illegal surveillance: a Finnish court could impose a corporate fine, the amount of which would be a maximum of 25% of the company’s total international revenue.

Oksanen comments: “It is of course clear that punishments on this basis would not be executed in the country doing the surveillance. Perpetrators of this act, however, could have difficulties traveling as, for example, an Interpol international warrant could have been issued for their arrest.”

The second section extends substantially authorities and telecom operators’ liability to report of their mass data collection, storage and utilization practices on citizens. At the moment, the Ministry of the Interior reports about the data retention practices only to the EU Commission. Companies are not currently required to report about their respective data collection practices at all.

The third proposed change is the closure of the gaps in the legislation that have been revealed in the case Edward Snowden related to the granting of protection for whistle-blowers. The proposal would make the extradition of whistleblowers impossible. Also, they could no longer be prevented from obtaining an entry or residence permit.

Effi chairman Timo Karjalainen states: “Unfortunately, this legislative package is unlikely to assist directly the case of Edward Snowden. However, similar cases will surely occur again, so it is important to fix the law now.” Karjalainen concludes: “In addition this bill proposal would make Finland a leading country in safeguarding digital rights and privacy. This would be a great selling point for Finland as a potential site for cloud services. Subscribers of cloud services certainly want to avoid countries where surveillance is rampant.”

Information on the initiative: http://snowden.effi.org

Ville Oksanen
Vice chairman, Electronic Frontier Finland – Effi ry
tel. +358 40 536 8583

Timo Karjalainen
Chairman, Electronic Frontier Finland – Effi ry
tel. +358 50 590 3763

Electronic Frontier Finland – Effi ry was founded to defend citizens’ digital rights. These rights include freedom of information without censorship, fair terms of use of digital information and freedom to develop and publish open software. The association aims to raise awareness on free speech, privacy, copyright and innovation on the net and to influence related legislation in Finland and in Europe. Effi has about 1500 members. Additional information: http://www.effi.org/.