Opponents Warn That Finland’s “Nokia” Law Will Damage Privacy

February 27, 2009 08:58 AM
by Josh Katz
Finland is preparing to pass a controversial bill endorsed by Nokia that would give employers more leeway to monitor employee e-mails.

Finland Backs “Snooping” Bill

The Finnish parliament debated the divisive bill on data protection this week that has earned the name “Nokia” law for Nokia’s lobbying efforts in favor of it, YLE News reports. A majority of the parliament members voted against any changes to the proposal and the ruling coalition favors the legislation. The amendment is expected to pass next week during the final vote.

Opponents refer to the measure as the “snooping” law, which would make it easier for companies to “see with whom their employees are e-mailing,” Bloomberg writes.

Observers say Nokia is backing the measure, which is an amendment to a 2004 law, because it would help the company crack down on whistleblowers revealing business secrets. Nokia says the law will “protect intellectual property rights,” Bloomberg reports. The opposition has argued that the bill was too vague and unsuccessfully sought to give it a full overhaul.

“It’s a step toward more and more surveillance of private citizens,” said Tapani Tarvainen, chairman of advocacy group Electronic Frontier Finland, according to Bloomberg. “This could hinder information from leaking to the press. The trade secret case is clearly just a pretext.”

But Martti Korhonen, chairman of the Left Alliance, said that “The act will not stop leaks, as many experts have pointed out, and we shouldn’t take the risk that someone’s basic rights could be violated,” Bloomberg reports.

But Kimmo Sasi, chair of the Constitutional Law Committee, expressed his support for the bill, saying the legislation would only apply to metadata, and would not allow companies to read the contents of e-mails or phone conversations, according to YLE News.

Furthermore, “The bill only pertains to workers with access to trade secrets,” said Communications Minister Suvi Lindén, according to YLE News.

But the blog Ars Technica is skeptical that the legislation will be so limited. The blog claims that Nokia has already been accused of monitoring e-mail accounts of company employees, and that this will justify what they’ve been doing. But “let's be honest here—if you're a company already examining such information and you aren't supposed to be, once you've actually got legal permission to do what you've been doing illicitly, is that going to be good enough? Probably not,” Ars Technica writes.
The largest newspaper in Finland, Helsingin Sanomat, even reported that Nokia was threatening to move its business to another country if the bill didn’t become law, according to Bloomberg. Nokia, the largest mobile-phone producer in the world, has denied such claims, however.

Qwidget is loading...

Background: E-mail monitoring

In the United States, employers typically have the legal right to monitor the e-mails of their employees because the e-mail systems in the workplace are the property of the company, Employment Law Bits writes. However, that is “somewhat limited by an employee's right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.” In other words, an employer must have an e-mail policy in place before viewing e-mails so that employees know what to expect.

A 2006 survey revealed that employers were increasingly monitoring the e-mails of their workers in order to prevent any dissemination of important company information. The study said that “Nearly half of respondents from companies with at least 20,000 employees said they hire staff to read and analyze outgoing email, compared to 38% of respondents from companies with 1,000 or more employees,” according to Furthermore, the study indicated that, “Nearly 1 in 3 companies terminated an employee for violating email policies in the past 12 months, while more than half have disciplined an employee for violating email policies in the past year.”

Employers monitor employee e-mails for a variety of reasons. Employees could use company e-mail too much for personal reasons, cutting productivity, and employee e-mails could also be a liability in the case of a lawsuit against the company. “In recent court cases, employee emails have been presented as evidence in claims of discrimination, sexual harassment, and other illegal activities,” according to Employment Law Bits.

Related Topic: ISPs in trouble over monitoring

Reference: Internet privacy; employee rights


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines