A new law that will allow increased monitoring of employees’ electronic communications by their employers was passed by Finland’s parliament on Tuesday. Despite splits on the government side – most notably within the Green party – the Bill had a healthy majority: 96 in favour, 56 against, with 47 absent from the vote.
The debate has recently hotted up, with one Government Minister mistakenly suggesting that companies already have the right to strip-search employees. Opponents have also made much of claims that one of the Bill's most active corporate supporters – Nokia – had previously carried out illegal monitoring, and would leave the country if it didn’t get its own way.
At the heart of the the controversy was an amendment to the Act on Data Protection of Electronic Communications. This allows employers to investigate the log data of employees' emails, if the company has reason to suspect that corporate secrets are leaking out of the company or that its communication networks are being misused.
This bill has also been called the "snooping law" and, in recognition of Nokia’s fervent support for it, "Lex Nokia".
Opponents claimed that the proposal was excessive. According to our contacts in the Finnish Greens, Deputy Chief Tero Kurenmaa of the National Bureau of Investigation has been quoted as saying that Lex Nokia would give employers greater powers than those invested in the police.
Earlier this month, Heidi Hautala (Green), the chair of the Finnish Parliament's legal affairs committee, told the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) that she was opposed to the bill.
European Digital Rights reported in December 2008 that the right to confidential communication is considered to be a fundamental right guaranteed under the Finnish constitution, as well as by the European treaty on human rights. The Chancellor of Justice and several law professors have expressed concerns that these fundamental rights will be weakened, while giving corporations excessive leeway.
Despite this, the Constitutional Law Committee stated that the bill was not unconstitutional and that it could be passed as a regular law.
Things got considerably more interesting last week, when Minister of Communications Suvi Lindén claimed that an employer currently has the right to order a strip-search of an employee if there is suspicion that the employee is leaking company secrets.
Following a public dressing-down from legal experts, Suvi Linden agreed that there was no such right and claimed that her comment had been intended as a joke.