Respecting freedom of expression - Telia Company's view on new surveillance regulation (‘direct access’) in FINLAND

New Finnish legislation regarding government access to Telia Finland’s network and systems for covert surveillance was published in January 2018. Telia Company’s commitment is to respect freedom of expression and surveillance privacy, we therefore report on new legislation with potentially serious impacts on those rights of our customers.

Government’s surveillance often serve legitimate purposes such as the protection of certain human rights, but they may also be problematic in that they could conflict with other human rights. Telia Company’s commitment is to respect freedom of expression and surveillance privacy.

Operational and technical control

Direct-access-systems, such as FRA in Sweden and SORM in Russia and elsewhere need to be contextualized in relation to the overall legal system but they allow government authorities real-time access to the networks of telecommunications operators without making specific or periodic demands to the operator. The Telia Company Transparency Report (‘Law Enforcement Disclosure Report’) includes a table of similar laws, where applicable, in other Telia Company local markets, see our latest report March 2018, pages 17 – 20, here.

As articulated in our policy on freedom of expression and surveillance privacy (available here, ‘Public advocacy’ – page 2 Policy principle 3), we advocate in all of our markets that governments should not have direct access to our networks and systems. It is our view that our local companies should retain operational and technical control.

 Under the proposed Finnish law, the secrecy of communications could be limited if necessary for obtaining information about military operations or other such non-military activities that seriously threaten national security, public policy or the form of government. Such threatening activities could be initiated by international networks of actors who are using communications networks in their attacks. The legislator aims to maintain trust and legal protection of the rights of users by efficient oversight, including strong powers to the oversight bodies.

This new Finnish legislation is proposed to be enacted early 2020, but if the proposal is declared urgent the new provisions might already enter into force at the end of this year 2018. The full text of the proposed law is available, in Finnish, here.

‘Clear and transparent’

The Policy of Telia Company is not to engage in politics of the countries in which we operate. We do not make political statements when representing our company. However, Telia Company does engage in dialogue regarding regulations that affect our business and customers.

Telia Company, as further defined in our Group Policy, advocates clear and transparent legal provisions on proportionality and necessity for all government legislation in the context of surveillance.

Telia Company welcomes that Finnish law does not hinder transparency about these new regulations. Every step towards transparency provides civil society and oversight bodies the basis to determine whether the resulting interference with the right to surveillance privacy meet the tests of legality, necessity, and proportionality.

Telia Company will continue to promote the above views, also when interacting with the Government of Finland in relation to this new legislation.