Civilian intelligence protects Finland’s national security

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

Intelligence provides state leaders with essential information on Finland’s security environment to help support their decision-making and enables the authorities responsible for combating the threats to prevent them. The security environment in Finland is changing rapidly, and new threats require a new kind of preparedness and contingency planning.

The new civilian intelligence powers may be used only by the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service, and they can also be exercised abroad. In future, information gathering by the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service will aim not only to prevent and detect crime but also to safeguard national security. As the focus of information gathering shifts towards intelligence, we will be able to detect threats to national security and also respond to them at an earlier stage than has been previously possible.

Intelligence legislation has extended the responsibilities of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service. Now, the duties of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service will also include gathering information to protect national security in accordance with guidance from the Ministry of the Interior. The role of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service is to act as the information-gathering organisation. The actual actions taken to tackle operations that pose a serious threat to national security are the responsibility of other authorities.

Network traffic intelligence helps to detect serious threats online

One of the new intelligence gathering methods that was adopted is network traffic intelligence. The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service will use 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 may not be used to gather information based on suspicion of an offence; the powers will be used only in detecting the most serious threats against Finland.

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.

An activity that poses a serious threat to national security ultimately targets ordinary people’s lives and health. For example, victims of terrorist attacks can be individual citizens chosen at random, whereas espionage against Finland has a negative impact on the national economy that may even be reflected in the employment situation.

Rigorous oversight of intelligence gathering

Intelligence gathering is overseen by the Intelligence Ombudsman and Parliament’s Intelligence Oversight Committee. The Intelligence Ombudsman oversees the actions of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service, the Intelligence Division of the Defence Command and the Finnish Defence Intelligence Agency. The Ombudsman is an autonomous and independent overseer of legality with extensive investigative powers and right of access to information. On 9 June 2020, the Intelligence Ombudsman published its first annual report, according to which intelligence gathering methods were used in accordance with the law in 2019.

The civilian intelligence legislation entered into force on 1 June 2019 at the same time as the military intelligence legislation that enables the Defence Forces to gather information on targets of military intelligence.

More information:
Marko Meriniemi, Senior Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 295 488 561