11 February 2014

Lex Snowden – a Finnish Citizen Initiative to support whistleblowers’ protection

By Päivikki Karhula

The leaks of Edward Snowden have raised a range of different responses and reactions against ubiquitous surveillance and led to calls to strengthen users’ rights and protection on the Internet. One of the early responses to the situation was a Finnish Citizens’ Initiative:

Yes we can - Law for protecting freedom of speech and privacy internationally (Lex Snowden)”

In a following video Ville Oksanen (Electronic Frontier Finland) introduces the background and goals of Lex Snowden initiative.

The Lex Snowden initiative aims at criminalizing spying on citizens. It requires authorities and enterprises to report on the collection and utilization of citizens’ data, and significantly enhances protection of whistle-blowers in Finland. Although the initiative did not actually receive the required support from citizens (50 000 signatures), it gained wide publicity in the media and revealed crucial gaps and problems in national legislation in relation to excessive data collection and whistleblowers’ protection.

Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI) 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.”

Protection for users and whistleblowers

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.

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 caseof 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.

Citizens’ initiative as a new form of participation

Citizens’ initiative became possible as a form of legislative initiative in Finland in 2012 by the support of national constitutional amendment. In practice, a Citizens’ Initiative has six months to gather support of 50 000 citizens’ signatures. If the required number of signatures is gained, the initiative is valid for further processing on the parliaments’ legislative agenda.

The campaign for Lex Snowden was organized by Electronic Frontier Finland and Open Ministry. The Open Ministry is a Finnish non-profit organization supporting crowdsourcing legislation, deliberative and participatory democracy and citizens’ initiatives.

Päivikki Karhula
Member of FAIFE committee
Paivikki.karhula@gmx.com

FAIFE (Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression), Access to information, Censorship, Freedom of information, Surveillance

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