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In Finland, A Citizens' Initiative to Protect Privacy and Whistleblowers

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, July 18 2013

Parliament of Finland (Wikipedia)

The Finns would help Edward Snowden if they could. Unfortunately, the law in Finland requires an asylum seeker to be in the country when applying, according to foreign ministry spokeswoman Tytti Pylkö. Some see the requirement as an unfortunate gap in their laws, and have petitioned to have it closed. On July 8, Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi) submitted a citizens' initiative to close the loopholes regarding whistle-blowers, and to protect the privacy of Finnish citizens.

The proposed law is titled “Yes We Can – The law for safeguarding of freedom of expression and privacy internationally” but is also referred to as the Lex Snowden initiative.

In Finland, citizens can directly petition the parliament and suggest legislature. If a citizens' initiative receives 50,000 signatures, the parliament must vote on the proposed law.

Effi's vice chairman Ville Oksanen states in a press release:

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.

The first piece of legislation in the Lex Snowden initiative criminalizes excessive surveillance of Finnish citizens, not just by Finnish companies or organizations, but by anyone worldwide. By making it a universal crime, companies and organizations could be prosecuted in Finland even if the surveillance took place out of the country.

The second piece would force the government and telecom companies to report on their collection of citizens' data, and the storage and use of the resulting information.

The final piece would change the laws regarding asylum for whistle-blowers. Among other changes, it would prevent the extradition of whistleblowers.

On this subject, Effi chairman Timo Karjalainen said, “Unfortunately, this legislative package is unlikely to assist directly the case of Edward Snowden. However, similar cases will surely occur again, so it is important to fix the law now.”

Not wanting to leave out the potential fiscal advantages of the law, Karjalainen added:

In addition this bill proposal would make Finland a leading country in safeguarding digital rights and privacy. This would be a great selling point for Finland as a potential site for cloud services. Subscribers of cloud services certainly want to avoid countries where surveillance is rampant.

Even if the legislation garners 50,000 signatures, the Finnish Parliament can simply dismiss it. In June, the parliament rejected the first citizen's initiative presented to them, a bill banning fur-farming. A second proposal on same-sex marriage is expected to be considered later this year, and is considered more likely to pass.

The non-profit Open Ministry has noted that public interest and participation in citizens' initiatives has declined since the process became legal in March 2012.

The Lex Snowden proposal could, if enough interest is sparked and sustained, be the third citizens' proposal to go to parliament.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.