Finland: A new citizens initiative – Lex Snowden

By EDRi · July 17, 2013

EDRi member Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi) has submitted on 8 July
2013, 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 (almost 1% of total population of
Finland) within 6 months, 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 travelling
as, for example, an Interpol international warrant could have been
issued for their arrest.”

The second section substantially extends authorities’ and telecom
operators’ liability to report their mass personal data collection,
storage and use. At the moment, the Ministry of the Interior reports
about 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 proposed bill
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.”

The draft law has gathered almost 1500 signatures after the first week.

Effi: Legislative initiative to protect privacy and whistle-blowers

Effi’s campaign site for the Lex Snowden

Draft law on Citizens initiative website (only in Finnish)

(Contribution by EDRi member Electronic Frontier Finland)