Civilian intelligence protects Finland’s national security

Finland adopted civilian intelligence legislation in early June 2019, with the aim of improving our capabilities to protect against serious threats to national security. Such threats include terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, espionage by foreign states or disruption of critical infrastructure.

The civilian intelligence legislation entered into force at the same time as the military intelligence legislation that enables the Defence Forces to gather information on targets of military intelligence. Civilian and military intelligence authorities engage in close cooperation.

Annual priorities set for civilian intelligence

The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the guidance of civilian intelligence. Each year, the Ministry sets priorities for civilian intelligence that guide the activities of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service and that define the themes on which the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service gathers information and reports. 

These priorities are based on the information needs of the State’s foreign and security policy leadership. When preparing the priorities, the Ministry of the Interior and the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service hold extensive discussions with the State’s political leadership and senior officials to identify information needs. The content of the priorities is secret information.
When defining the priorities, the operating environment affecting security and the changes that have taken place in it will also be taken into account. If necessary, the priorities can be changed during the year if changes in the operating environment so require.

Finnish Security and Intelligence Service uses civilian intelligence powers

The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service has the task of gathering information, in accordance with guidance from the Ministry of the Interior, to protect national security, as well as identifying, detecting and preventing such operations, schemes and criminal offences that could threaten state and social order and internal or external security. It must also maintain and develop general readiness to identify and prevent any actions that could threaten the safety and security of society. 
After the entry into force of the Civilian Intelligence Act, the range of tasks of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service has expanded and the focus of information gathering has shifted more towards intelligence. The civilian intelligence powers are only available to the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service. 

The primary task of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service is to produce intelligence for the State’s leadership and other security authorities. In addition, the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service provides wide-ranging services to other authorities, companies, organisations and members of the public. Intelligence enables the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service and certain other authorities to take measures to prevent threats to national security . The security environment in Finland is changing rapidly, and new threats require constant preparedness and contingency planning. 

Network traffic intelligence helps to detect serious threats online

One of the intelligence gathering methods is network traffic intelligence. The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service uses network traffic intelligence to gather information in communications cables crossing the Finnish borders that is significant from the perspective of national security. Intelligence gathering methods are used only to identify the most serious threats to national security.

Civilian intelligence legislation does not allow general, non-specific and all-encompassing monitoring of network traffic. In each individual case, the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service must state the reasons for which it is essential to screen specific network traffic during a specified period. The decision to grant authorisation for gathering network traffic intelligence is made by a district court.

Rigorous oversight of intelligence gathering

Intelligence gathering is overseen by the Intelligence Ombudsman and Parliament’s Intelligence Oversight Committee. 

The Intelligence Ombudsman is responsible for overseeing the legality of civilian and military intelligence and the implementation of fundamental and human rights in intelligence activities. The Ombudsman is an autonomous and independent overseer of legality with extensive investigative powers and right of access to information. The Act on the Oversight of Intelligence Activities entered into force in February 2019.

The Intelligence Ombudsman publishes an annual report every year. According to the Ombudsman’s most recent annual report (published on 6 May 2021), the targeting of intelligence activities was in accordance with the law in 2020. 

The task of Parliament’s Intelligence Oversight Committee is to exercise parliamentary oversight of civilian and military intelligence. The Committee also exercises parliamentary oversight of other activities of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service.

Inquiries: Juha Vehmaskoski, tel. +358 295 488 208