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Suomen Journalistiliiton puheenjohtaja Hanne Aho. Kuvaaja Hanna-Kaisa Hämäläinen.

Source protection should figure in new intelligence law

New draft intelligence legislation being prepared by parliamentary committees must contain guarantees on source protection for journalists, says UJF president Hanne Aho.

The new draft Intelligence Act is at the parliamentary committee stage, with inputs from the committees on defence and administration.

Following the entry into force of the new Intelligence Act, military intelligence or the security police would not inform people of communications that had accidently come into their possession.

The new law would therefore give officials the opportunity to read the source-protected information and not to inform the journalists concerned. The same would apply to other professionals dealing with confidential information, such as doctors and priests.

Journalists would have no way of knowing that their source-protected information had been accessed by intelligence officials.

The UJF president considers the inputs by the parliamentary committees to be extremely poor.

“With journalists’ source protection, a source is emboldened to expose wrongdoing, for instance concerning the activities of officials, when they know that they cannot be found out. The intelligence law is being written in such a way that we can no longer count on the protection of sources,” said Aho.

“We have no way of monitoring the reliability of intelligence operations. The public simply has to trust that officials don’t abuse their powers in this respect. As journalists we don’t have any control over them.”

The report by the parliamentary defence committee states that when it comes to military intelligence the journalists’ source protection is already stricter than in fighting crime.

“In criminal matters, a journalist’s source protection can always be breached in the courts, but in military intelligence operations such information has to be immediately destroyed,” the national daily Helsingin Sanomat quoted the report.

But this is not true, says Hanne Aho.

“As far as we know, source protection has never been breached by the courts. The intelligence act is being drafted in too much of a hurry and on the basis of wrong information.”

On the plus side, the parliamentary committee on defence has decided that intelligence officials may no longer share information with the police in their enquiries if the information concerned is subject to source protection. This is in line with the UJF’s own stance.