Alternatives to massive online surveillance need to be examined

Ministry of Transport and Communications
Publication date 1.10.2014 10.50
News item

Permanent Secretary Harri Pursiainen suspects that in the debate over online surveillance, excuses are being created for extensive surveillance of electronic communications instead of evaluating the issue in a balanced manner. Pursiainen took up the matter in a speech given in Helsinki at the Finnet Days on 1 October 2014.

Online surveillance has been in the headlines recently. One reason is a report by the Ministry of Defence working group considering legislation on data acquisition. The working group is considering whether or not there is need in Finland to increase the rights of the Defence Forces to engage in online surveillance.

"It might be necessary in an evil world to increase the powers of officials in communications networks, and there are situations in which the confidentiality of communications needs to be violated", Pursiainen said in his speech.

Pursiainen nevertheless feels that instead of individual situations, the topic of discussions now is a general right of officials to have access to personal online communications.

"It is said that officials are interested only in a small proportion of communications. But that small part cannot be separated from the web unless all communications are subjected to surveillance. In that respect online surveillance would deviate from present-day authority that officials have."

Thorough accounting
before action

Pursiainen raised three matters that need to be clarified before massive online surveillance can be accepted.

"First, the vital reason for society why the intelligence information is needed needs to be shown. The example of other countries is not a sufficient reason. Second, it needs to be shown that online surveillance is the specific efficient means to reach the desired end", Pursiainen added.

"In addition, it must be shown that the societal benefit from the right to surveillance is greater than the harm caused by the violation of fundamental rights.

In the debate over online surveillance the Ministry of Transport and Communications has emphasised the importance of the high confidentiality and citizens' fundamental rights.

"Confidence in communications is an important value of society. Finland should nurture it even as a factor in competition. In this we share the thoughts of the business community", Pursiainen added.

There may be a need for more extensive online surveillance, but the practical alternatives and the real need must be clarified before implementation. The ministry wants to help in this investigative work.