Lex Nokia: Disconnecting People

Nokia headquarters in Espoo, outside Helsinki. © A.SOTO

Nokia headquarters in Espoo, outside Helsinki. © A.SOTO


On 11th of March, the most controversial law was passed by the Finnish parlament (Eduskunta). For the first time, the national daily Helsinki Sanomat broke the usual consensus approach and steared controversy by publishing an article about how an unconstitutional law, allowing the monitoring of communications, was in the making to be passed.
(This article was originally published in Helsinki´s English language Magazine Agenda 1/2009)

By Adrián Soto

The controversial so-called Lex Nokia bill was approved by the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta) in a divided vote 96 to 56, with 47 Members of the Parliament not casting their vote. The Government ranks were split and public opinion was overwhelmingly against it – polls showed that as many as 78% of Finns opposed the bill.
The proposed bill had an amazing development from the beginning. In autumn 2004, a law on data protection for electronic communication came into effect, but the business community was never happy with it. According to Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s main daily newspaper, by that time “Nokia continues to spy on the e-mails of its employees”.
The origin of the newly-passed bill goes back to April 2005 when Nokia made a criminal complaint to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) concerning a suspicion that corporate secrets had been leaked to the Chinese competitor Huawei via e-mail. Two months before, a Nokia employee had discovered at the International Communication Fair in Cannes, France, that the power unit of a Huawei phone looked identical to Nokia’s product presented at the same fair. Looking for evidence of a leak, Nokia started to dig through the employee’s e-mail.

According to the law experts, the company was acting outside the law and violating the employee’s fundamental right of confidential communication, but the company did not freely accept these comments. According to Helsingin Sanomat, “The company felt that the law, and not Nokia, had it wrong.”
The influential paper states that at this point the world leader of the mobile phone industry took out it most severe weapon: it threatened to leave Finland if the law was not changed. This would be a devastating blow to the State budget, since the State receives an annual 1.3 billion euros from Nokia, which means one-fifth of the entire corporate taxes of Finland. On the prime-time TV programme “A-Plus”, Nokia CEO Oli-Pekka Kallasvuo denied that Nokia had made any pressure, “Nokia is not thinking of leaving Finland. We don’t have any preconceived plans in this respect.”
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Nokia spokeswoman Arja Suominen also rejected all the accusations. “Nokia is in no way threatening to move,” she said to the New Agency SST, adding that “Helsingin Sanomat’s article is quite polemic. It contains many mistakes and misunderstandings.” Despite this affirmation, at the time of going to print, no lawsuit has been filed by Nokia against Helsingin Sanomat for the article.

After these negations, high-ranking civil servants came out to state that during the preliminary stage of the bill preparation representatives of the Confederation of Finnish Industries came strongly in negotiations to support the law. Helsingin Sanomat quotes the Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Markku Wallin, as saying, “During the preparation process of the law, there were threats made that Nokia would leave Finland if the law didn’t pass.” The director of the Union of Salaried Employees, Antti Rinne, also told the newspaper that he had heard of the threat.
Once the bill went to Parliament in April 2008, the Constitution Law Committee called eight of the most prominent Finnish law experts. Seven of them rejected the bill as being in contradiction with the basic constitutional rights regarding the freedom of expression. After this overwhelming opinion of the law professors, the chairman of the Constitutional Committee Kimmo Sassi told media, “It is true that academicians are not supporting the bill, but we thought in a different way.”
Criticism surrounded the whole process, with the deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) stating on the eve of the approval that the law would give companies larger authority than the police has. In his opinion, if a company has a suspicion of spying, it should notify the police, not act on its own. Also, critics of the law say no spy would use its company email to leak data. They see the law as a way to spy on employees. At the other end, supporters of the law are happy to see for the first time a law that clearly prohibits the leaking of trade secrets.

The new data protection law allows employers to monitor their workers electronic correspondence for information including the sender and the recipient of e-mails, the time it was sent and the size of its attachment. So far, the law, by itself, does not allow digging into the contents of the message, but the major fear of critics of the law is that anyone furnishing internet services (not only employers, but also libraries, or schools) can look into what internet pages one visits and to whom is sending emails. From this to blackmail, pressures and misuse of data is only a step.
One of the academicians that spoke to the Constitutional Committee was Information and Technology Law Professor Jukka Kemppinen said that, in the final instance, the law is about the right to free expression. How does this go with Nokia’s slogan “Connecting people” which implies connections are made on the bases of free expression ?

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