addled articles

Lex Nokia – Finland’s own snooping law

Posted in article by Opinie on March 23, 2009

A new bill that amends the law on data protection in electronic communication has caused considerable upheaval in Finland in the last few months. People have protested against it, and legal experts have dismissed it as being unconstitutional.

The law, dubbed “Lex Nokia” or “snooping law” by its detractors, gives employers the right to investigate employees’ e-mail log data, if there is reason to suspect that corporate secrets are leaking out. However, the bill doesn’t allow the employer to look into the content of its employees’ messages. Similar rights are also given to schools, libraries, and universities.

The Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (HS) claimed on its article that Nokia wanted the current law, which denies companies the right to inspect emails sent from company computers, loosened. Following a case where the firm suspected that its confidential information could be leaking to its Chinese competitor, Huawei, in 2005, and asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the matter.

Eventually though, the company realized that not even the NBI had sufficient rights to investigate the matter further. HS claimed that the firm then started lobbying for the bill, now known as “Lex Nokia”. According to the newspaper, Nokia managed to convince key civil servants of the bills’ necessity by claiming that it had already lost large amounts of money due to information leaks – but no one questioned whether those claims were true or not.

There have been two earlier cases, where Nokia suspected its confidential information to have leaked out via email: the 2005 Huawei case, and the earlier 2001 Microcell case. When HS, in June 2008, inquired why the company itself had asked the NBI to end its preliminary investigation over the Huawei case, the firm commented one of the reasons to have been, being unable to produce concrete evidence of economic harm having been done. When asked if the company had concrete evidence of similar harm being caused in the earlier Microcell case, I was told that it was company policy not to comment on such matters. Leaving this reporter to deduce that durable policies are hard to come by these days.

In its article HS quoted an unnamed civil servant saying “Nokia put very strong pressure to bear to win unanimous approval to the proposal already in the preparatory stages. [The message]… was quite clear: if the bill is not passed into law, Nokia will leave Finland”

Nokia’s spokesperson, Arja Suominen, soon denied that Nokia would have threatened to leave the country, Fiercewireless quoted her saying ‘”[The] Helsingin Sanomat article is quite polemic,” and went on to say “It contains many mistakes and misunderstandings.”

The newspaper Talouselämä reported that the CEO of Nokia, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, also disputed the claims of Nokia threatening to leave Finland and said that the company doesn’t have any ambitions on the matter.

Even the Finnish PM Matti Vanhanen has denied knowing that politicians would have been pressured about the proposed law, but did acknowledge that talks about the matter had taken place with the company.

Although the company denied claims of threatening to move its HQ abroad, this wouldn’t be the first time Nokia has been associated with similar notions. In 2001, Jorma Ollila, then the CEO, hinted that if the corporate tax in Finland was not lowered within the next five years, the company might move its HQ elsewhere. In 2005, the tax was cut from 29% to 26%.

Nokia generates a tax revenue of €1.3 billion (£1.16B) to the government, and employs 16,000 in the country. The tax revenues produced by the firm are one fifth of everything generated from corporate taxation, which HS commented to be what it called “a considerable leverage” in its article.

Many legal experts have said that the bill shouldn’t even have been handled as a regular law. HS quoted Jukka Kemppinen, Professor of Information and Technology, saying “The bill should have been handled as a constitutional amendment. It is also not clear enough, which leaves employers too much room to maneuver. –”.

The newspaper Aamulehti reported Juhapekka Ristola, an official of the ministry of transport and communications, saying that the only way the law would be useful is by effectively denying Internet access in the workplace. This he says is due to the fact that even if e-mail traffic via employees’ company e-mail accounts could be monitored, passing off confidential information through personal e-mail accounts or instant messaging would still be possible, and not even the proposed law would allow monitoring these activities.

Legal experts have also raised doubts whether the law, would even be useful in warding off corporate espionage. In an earlier article HS quoted Asko Lehtonen, Professor of Law, saying: “There is an attempt to reduce human rights without a reason. In reality, company secrets are not passed on by e-mail”

Even the NBI criticized the law. The Centre Party newspaper Suomenmaa reported the NBI deputy director Tero Kurenmaa saying that the bill would provide companies with more rights than the police have in terms of surveillance, as well as confusing the roles between private companies, state officials, and citizens.

The chairman of the Green party Jyrki Kasvi, raised the point that the bill could compromise the principles of a state ruled by law, by giving the rights to investigate to the people involved, rather than public officials, on his blog.

Nevertheless, Finland’s president Tarja Halonen recently signed the bill into a law, despite of its controversial nature, and the waves of protest it has launched. The bill is set to come into effect on the 1st of June this year.

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