Yle news and other Finnish media reported today the police search of the home of Helsingin Sanomat’s journalist Laura Halminen. She is one of two of the paper’s journalists responsible for a report published last Saturday by Helsingin Sanomat about a relatively secret Defence Forces’ Intelligence Research Center, which seems to be a base where the Finnish Defence forces are monitoring or planning to monitor the internet and all communications, inside and outside the country, without a carefully legal control. Helsingin Sanomat considers that it is important that the public and the Members of Parliament, who have not a good knowledge of such activities, be informed, and they claim that a public debate is necessary.
The problem is that the documents were classified “Confidential at the highest level“, according supposedly to Government Decree 681/2010, which means that “unauthorized disclosure or unauthorized use of the secret information contained in the document could be disadvantageous to a public or private interest referred to in a secrecy provision“. So the Defence ministry is going to court in order to punish the people who have been leaking the information, which is fine.
The scandal here is that the police searched the journalist’s house without a court order, and seized Halminen’s personal phone, her company phone, her personal computer and iPad, as well as a large number of USB flash drives. Police also reportedly searched through her bookshelves and kitchen ventilation.
Helsingin Sanomat’s editor-in-chief, Kaius Niemi expressed concern over the development: “Searches targeting the homes of journalists, especially to this extent, are totally exceptional in Finland, a country with the profile of a leading country in press freedom. I consider what has happened to be very worrying for the ability of the media to function and for the protection of sources“.
Finland has lost this year the top spot in the Reporters without Borders’ ranking concerning the freedom of press, after the Sipilägate, Juha Sipilä being the present Finnish Prime Minister who threatened last year a journalist who was going to publish articles concerning his conflict of interest situation. The journalist, who was working for the public service YLE (thus financed by the government) was finally resigning, and the editor-in-chief of YLE was replaced.
This new event is again putting Finland in a situation where where the freedom of press is threatened by the action of the police, with the support of the government. This is quite dramatic: playing with the freedom of press is everywhere quite dangerous.