Government proposal on oversight of intelligence gathering to Parliament

Ministry of Justice 25.1.2018 13.22
Press release

The Government proposes that a new authority, Intelligence Ombudsman, be established to oversee the legality of civilian and military intelligence gathering. The oversight system needs to be reformed, because the proposed new intelligence legislation would give new significant intelligence gathering tasks and powers to the civilian and military intelligence authorities.

According to the proposal, submitted today to Parliament, the intelligence oversight system would consist of both parliamentary oversight and an Intelligence Ombudsman responsible for the oversight of legality. The aim is to organise the oversight of intelligence gathering so that it meets the requirement of effective and independent oversight.

Covert intelligence gathering methods interfere with the basic rights of individuals, in particular the protection of private life and the secrecy of confidential communications. According to the proposal, trust in the appropriateness of intelligence gathering and in the realisation of legal protection of individuals would be ensured by efficient organisation of the oversight of legality and a strong mandate and powers to the oversight bodies.

New parliamentary committee

A new parliamentary special committee, Intelligence Oversight Committee, would exercise parliamentary oversight of intelligence gathering. Establishing the committee requires amendments to the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, and the Speaker’s Council has drawn up a separate proposal on the matter.

The new act on the oversight of intelligence gathering would lay down provisions on the right of the Intelligence Oversight Committee to access information and receive reports. The committee would have an extensive right of access to information and the right to receive reports on intelligence gathering from the Intelligence Ombudsman and other authorities and other parties performing public tasks.

Strong mandate and extensive powers to ombudsman

The Intelligence Ombudsman would function in connection with the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman and would be an independent and autonomous authority. The ombudsman would be responsible for overseeing the legality of the use of intelligence gathering methods and the realisation of fundamental and human rights in intelligence gathering activities. The intelligence ombudsman would have a strong mandate and effective powers to conduct oversight of legality.

The Intelligence Ombudsman would be appointed by the Government for a maximum of five years at a time. The duties and powers of the new ombudsman would not restrict the oversight powers of the supreme overseers of legality, i.e. the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, or the other special ombudsmen.

The Intelligence Ombudsman would have an extensive right of access to information and the right to receive reports on intelligence gathering from authorities and other parties performing public administrative tasks. The ombudsman could also conduct inspections in the premises of authorities and other parties performing public administrative tasks.

The Intelligence Ombudsman could order the use of a certain intelligence gathering method to be suspended or terminated, if the ombudsman considers that the authority has acted unlawfully in the course of intelligence gathering. To suspend or terminate the use of intelligence gathering methods that require court authorisation, the intelligence ombudsman could issue an interim order, which should be referred without delay for consideration by the court that issued the authorisation. The court should decide on the matter urgently.

The Intelligence Ombudsman could also order that unlawfully gathered intelligence data must be destroyed without delay. If the intelligence ombudsman deems that a party subject to oversight has acted unlawfully, the ombudsman could report the case to the competent criminal investigation authority.

The Intelligence Ombudsman would also monitor and assess the functioning of the legislation in its field and propose improvements as deemed necessary. The ombudsman would report annually to Parliament, the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Government on its activities. The Intelligence Ombudsman could also issue separate reports on issues deemed important. The ombudsman should use own initiative to report any significant oversight findings to the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Committee for consideration.

Possibility for complaints to ensure legal protection of individuals

According to the proposal, complaints concerning the legality of intelligence gathering could be filed with the Intelligence Ombudsman. A person who has been a target for intelligence gathering or a person who suspects that intelligence gathering has been targeted at him or her could also request the ombudsman to investigate the legality of the measure targeted at him or her.

Submitting such a request could be possible, for example, in situations where a person is informed by an authority of having been a target for intelligence gathering after the use of the intelligence gathering method has already ended. Such subsequent notifications would be made in connection with the use of certain intelligence gathering methods, such as telecommunications interception, data-traffic monitoring, and network traffic intelligence.

Inquiries:

Tuula Majuri, Director of Legislative Affairs, tel. +358 2951 50280 and 

Anu Mutanen, Senior Specialist, tel. +358 295 50311

email: [email protected]