As many of you know, private employers in the United States routinely reserve the right to examine their employees' e-mails sent from, and received on, company computers. They do so under a general theory that employees of private companies do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in communications contained on company-owned computer systems.
Apparently the issue of privacy vs. employers' rights is a hot topic in Finland. Nokia, one of Finland's most successful companies and a major employer there, has been lobbying for an amendment to existing law that would permit them to review their employees' e-mail and 0ther electronic communications sent or received on Nokia-owned computers - under a theory that this would better enable them to protect trade secrets and confidential and competitively-sensitive information. But - the Fightin' Finns are fighting mad and fighting back . . . as Bloomberg reports below:
The proposal, dubbed the “snooping” or “Nokia” law, allows companies to more easily see with whom their employees are e-mailing. Helsingin Sanomat, the country’s biggest newspaper, earlier this month accused Nokia of making behind-the-scenes threats to leave the country if the bill doesn’t pass. The world’s biggest mobil-phone maker, which denies the allegations, wants the law to protect intellectual property rights.
“Trade secrets are a serious matter for a country like Finland, whose competitiveness lies in innovations,” Arto Satonen, chairman of the parliament’s employment committee, said. “It’s important that emails are included in the law.”
The legislation, an amendment to a 2004 law, clarifies when employers can monitor e-mail details, such as recipients and attachments sizes. Companies wishing to monitor traffic must update their security systems, inform employees how the program will work and notify a government ombudsman.
“This will absolutely be a better way to prevent trade secret leaks compared with the existing situation,” said Kimmo Sasi, chairman of the parliament’s constitutional committee, which endorsed the amendment. “It requires companies to upgrade their own security systems.”
Right to Undress
A majority in Finland’s parliament today voted down efforts by opponents to alter the proposal. The final vote, which is a formality because the ruling coalition’s two main parties support the measure, will take place next week.
The allegations against Nokia, along with public comments by one of the bill’s supporters, have often sidelined debate about the proposal itself. Communication Minister Suvi Linden told daily newspaper Aamulehti Feb. 12 employers have the right to undress workers and search them for USB memory sticks when leaving company premises. Linden later said she was joking.
Nokia Chairman Jorma Ollila on Feb. 15 went on an interview program on public broadcaster YLE to deny that the Espoo-based company had pressured anyone and say that the accusations should be investigated. Nokia spokeswoman Arja Sumonien said the company backs the view of the Confederation of Finnish Industries.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s no discussion about the content of the proposal, but the talk is rather on completely other matters,” said Mikko Nyyssoelae, senior legal counsel at the confederation, which has lobbied for the law on behalf of Nokia and other Finnish corporations.
“The talk about us pressuring somebody on the matter is nonsense.”
Nonprofit organizations such as universities, libraries and housing associations would remain under the new data protection law. Student groups from Finland’s main political parties have signed a joint petition against the act. They say nonprofit organizations should be excluded from the bill.
“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” said Martti Kuhonen, chairman of the Left Alliance, during today’s debate.
Opponents have launched a website called urkintalaki - or snooping law -- to protest against the proposal. It features a video of lawmakers ripping pages from Finland’s constitution after the parliament building runs out of toilet paper.
“This act will not make Finland a big brother society, but it’s one step towards it,” said Antti Kurvinen, head of ruling Centre Party’s student organization.