Is it a coincidence or just bad timing that the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) wants greater online surveillance powers? It was only last week when Edward Snowden revealed to the world how the NSA accessed private information of billions of people without their knowledge never mind their permission.
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Who would be the biggest losers if Supo and the police were given greater powers?
Not only would Finnish society lose, especially immigrants and visible minorities, who would be the targets of increased surveillance by Supo and the police.
In a live interview on The Guardian, Edward Snowden explained what was wrong with costly and out-of-control National Security Agency (NSA):
“Journalists should ask a specific question: since these programs began operation shortly after September 11th, how many terrorist attacks were prevented SOLELY by information derived from this suspicionless surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to acheive that, and ask yourself if it was worth it. Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we’ve been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it.”
In the late-1980s, there was little to no oversight of Supo. Friends of a Supo agent could easily access sensitive Interpol files on a person with the help of a phone call. Surveillance of foreigners back then was finding out if they participated in demonstrations, supported human rights as well as other “normal” information about what people do in a democratic society.
The track record of the police and its attitude of immigrants and visible minorities reinforce a worst-case scenario.
Apart from no black or visible minorities in the Finnish police force, the treatment of Finland’s first suspected terrorism case is another example that should keep us on our toes.
The father of our Western democratic system, Baron de Montesquieu, should never be forgotten. Since power corrupts, an effective checks and balance system ensures that matters don’t get too out of hand.
National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero gave his support to the Supo initiative.
Finland’s Data Protection Ombudsman, Reijo Aarnio, correctly poited out that a new set of problems would arise if the police expand their surveillance rights.
“When expanded police powers are proposed, there should always be an evaluation of what the effects will be,” he said. “That includes a determination of whether an envisaged threat has changed so much that these powers are genuinely needed.”