Parliament approves controversial Lex Nokia bill

The Finnish parliament has approved the controversial ‘Lex Nokia’ bill, allowing employers to view employees’ email metadata if they suspect corporate secrets are being leaked. The bill has sparked controversy after claims that the Confederation of Finnish Industries had pressurised the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff to support the legislation. It also seems that the Finnish mobile phone company Nokia was involved in the act’s preparation from the outset.

The Finnish parliament has approved the controversial bill – called ‘Lex Nokia’ (FI0902059I) – that gives employers the right to view employees’ email metadata. The bill was approved by a majority of 96 to 56 votes, with 47 members of parliament abstaining from the vote. The Act on the Protection of Privacy in Electronic Communications has been heavily debated in the run-up to the parliamentary proceedings.

The act would amend legislation on the confidentiality of electronic communications, thus giving employers the right to access information on senders and recipients of employees’ emails if they suspect that corporate secrets are being leaked.

AKAVA under pressure to support bill

In the weeks leading up to the parliamentary proceedings, the Lex Nokia bill has sparked widespread public controversy after claims that the Confederation of Finnish Industries (Elinkeinoelämän keskusliitto, EK) had pressurised the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff (Akateemisten Toimihenkilöiden Keskusjärjestö, AKAVA) to support the controversial amendment to the act as early as in 2006. At that time, a tripartite working group proposed legislation enabling employers to monitor employees’ email use, if they suspected that the worker was leaking confidential information to outsiders. All of the trade union confederations, with the exception of AKAVA, were in favour of the proposal (FI0609019I).

The recent public discussion has also indicated that the Finnish mobile phone company Nokia was actively involved in the preparation of the Lex Nokia bill – also known as the ‘snooping law’ – right from the outset of drafting the law. EK and Nokia wanted the amendment to be treated as urgent, but the plan met with resistance from AKAVA, among others, and the process was suspended for more than a year. However, Nokia has denied that it was actively involved in drawing up the new legislation.

Members of AKAVA also felt under pressure to give their approval of the new act from the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) and the Finnish Confederation of Professionals (Toimihenkilökeskusjärjestö, STTK).

EK denies claim

EK Legal Affairs Director, Lasse Laatunen, expressed his amazement at the accusation that EK had exerted pressure on AKAVA, and noted that AKAVA itself had not accused EK of putting pressure on the organisation to support the new act. He stated: ‘AKAVA has not accused me that I have pressured the organisation.’ According to Mr Laatunen, it is normal for parties to sometimes disagree during negotiations. He added: ‘Trying to find joint outlooks and making compromises do not reflect pressure. Negotiation situations with raging parlance is familiar to every labour market organisation.’

Nevertheless, the weekly news magazine Suomen Kuvalehti drew attention to a strongly-worded email that was apparently sent by EK Director Laatunen in April 2007 to an influential AKAVA representative and an EK director, with a copy forwarded to an AKAVA director. The magazine stated that, in the email, Mr Laatunen was pressurising AKAVA members to support the amendment of the act and emphasised that reluctance to support the preparation of the bill would not be tolerated.

Claims and rumours about drafting of bill

The Ministry of Employment and the Economy (Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö) and the Union of Salaried Employees (Toimihenkilöunioni, TU) were told during discussions held in 2006 that Nokia would leave Finland if a new law on protecting electronic communications was not introduced. The Chair of TU, Antti Rinne, has heard claims of threats made by Nokia pertaining to relocation. Mr Rinne stated: ‘During the handling phase of the bill there were threats that Nokia would leave Finland if the law is not passed.’

The Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Employment at the time, Markku Wallin, stated that he had held discussions with EK regarding which law should incorporate the possibility to permit an employer to monitor the sender and recipient data of employee email communications. Mr Wallin stated: ‘The need for a law and the great haste with which it had to be passed was justified by Nokia’s leaving Finland if the bill is not passed.’

According to Mr Wallin, EK wanted to keep the drafting of the bill within the Ministry of Transport and Communications (Liikenne- ja viestintäministeriö), because it was in this ministry that people were completely convinced of the law’s importance. The former Minister of Employment, Tarja Filatov, highlighted that rumours were circulating during the preparation of the bill claiming that pressure was being exerted from Nokia to get the bill passed. Ms Filatov stated: ‘I heard various rumours and claims that pressure was being put by Nokia in the matter, but nobody made any threats to me directly, or tried to pressure me.’ Ms Filatov held her ministerial post when the bill was under preparation in the spring of 2006.

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland

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