Headquarters of Finnish telecommunication network company Nokia pictured in Espoo, Finland on July 26, 2018. Nokia -Siemens has been criticised earlier for selling monitoring software to totalitarian governments such as Iran.


Recently-leaked internal documents from the European Commission reveal that Finland, Sweden, and the UK are at the heart of an opposition to proposed legislation which would improve human rights safeguards across the EU. 

The proposals, outlined here, would put in place new limits to prevent the export of surveillance technology to regimes and entities accused of human rights abuses. The proposals were first launched in 2016, drawing widespread praise from human rights advocacy groups.

While the EU publicly expressed unanimous support for such measures, the documents reveal that in private, the Finnish government has helped lead the charge to prevent any improvement to existing safeguards. 

EU companies have in the past been implicated in selling technology used to commit human rights abuses in China, Syria, Russia, Israel, and Egypt, among others. It was therefore recognized that measures should be put in place to stop EU countries exporting such “dual-use technology” (meaning technology with both military and civilian applications) to authoritarian regimes. 

The proposals submitted in January this year included a requirement for exporters to obtain a license to sell surveillance technology to certain regions. They also proposed including “human rights” as an EU-wide criterion for export controls. However, both Finland and Sweden have remained “fundamentally opposed” to such measures, provoking private frustration from many other EU member states, who have accused Finland of deliberately trying to derail the legislation.

In an EU Council meeting in May 2018, Finland and Sweden submitted a joint paper setting out their opposition. In it, they describe proposals to increase the scrutiny of surveillance technology exports as “completely unnecessary”, believing it would undermine competitiveness. They also expressed fears that the proposals would put “over 1 million” EU jobs at risk, as authoritarian regimes would presumably purchase such technology from elsewhere. 

Finland has also argued to the EU Council that “withholding such products could actually be detrimental to human rights in many cases” as military-grade surveillance technology can also be used to fight terrorism. Finland and Sweden also oppose any measures that would deter the United States from the EU export market, which it believes these would. 

Over the course of 2018, the legislation has progressed to the point where almost all other member states agree that the proposals are needed. However, the documents show that the EU has singled out Finland and Sweden for private criticism, stating that they are both unwilling to compromise. 

Finland has called for the “complete cancellation” of any articles which would require technology companies to submit to a human rights consultation before exporting overseas. It has also apparently used a number of “blocking efforts” to try and derail the legislation, including apparent attempts at filibustering to delay progress.

The human rights advocacy group Amnesty International has delivered a strong rebuke, stating that Finland and its supporters are “secretly ready to trade in their obligations as human rights defenders for the sake of business interests”.

The EU hopes to reach an agreement by the end of November, but it seems that Finland is committed to ensuring that doesn’t happen. In a world where authoritarian regimes are more emboldened than ever, it may seem disheartening to some that Finland is placing the interests of business before the protection of human rights.


Adam Smith - HT

Image: Lehtikuva