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UJF: Intelligence legislation must safeguard protection of journalistic sources

The UJF has issued written responses to the three government ministries responsible for drafting new intelligence legislation.

The draft bills, produced by the defence, interior and justice ministries, represent an effort to upgrade Finland’s preparedness to deal with threats to national security from terrorism, spying by foreign states and disruptions to critical infrastructure.

The proposed legislation seeks increased powers in each of the three ministries areas of competence. The Ministry of Interior aims to expand intelligence gathering, including in civilian cross-border online communications traffic.  It also seeks to expand the current Security Police into a fully-fledged intelligence agency.

The Ministry of Defence would essentially do the same but with respect to foreign military and intelligence activity, threats to public order, and other defence related areas.

The Ministry of Justice, meanwhile, suggests the appointment of an intelligence ombudsman to monitor the legality of intelligence work, including in relation to basic and human rights.

The key concern of the UJF is the protection of journalistic sources and the rights of journalists in relation go this.  Legislation prepared according to the current drafts would undermine the protection of journalistic sources, even though they seek to address source protection concerns.

“The new intelligence legislation is necessary,” said union president Hanne Aho, “but it requires clarifications.”

Under the current proposals, the new legislation could see information exposing journalistic sources remaining in the possession of the authorities, despite the fact that it would in theory be deleted.

The union is concerned that sweeping powers to monitor and collect online information would mean that confidential journalistic sources would come into the possession of the authorities, as they would not know in advance what information is confidential and what is not. Even if confidential material is deleted, it still will have been seen and the damage done.

The union has called for the draft bills to be more clearly formulated with respect to protecting journalistic sources, informing journalists of all situations when editorial communications are affected by network gathering intelligence.  Also, the liability of the authorities for breach of the law must be more precise than in the current draft bills.

The union has stressed that protection of sources is crucial to bringing to public attention problems in society that might otherwise remain concealed. Any move to undermine source protection undermines freedom of expression and democracy.

“Source protection is an unconditional precondition for the legal protection of journalists’ work and the public,” said Hanne Aho. “The media will be unable to monitor the powers that be, if those in power are able to monitor journalistic communications.”