Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Itella and the Right to Privacy in Finland

The right to privacy is a fundamental human right enshrined in democratic Constitutions and in numerous international human rights standards. Many democratic states therefore are legally bound to guarantee this right for every individual within their borders, but Finland apparently disagrees! This is the case because Itella - a state-owned mail company in Finland has started opening, scanning and distributing letters electronically. Is this a violation of the right to privacy?

Section 10 of the Constitution of Finland guarantees the right to "secrecy of correspondence, telephony and other confidential communications" (unofficial translation). Although the company in question - Itella claims the staff in charge of opening letters are "bound to secrecy" and would not read the letters, the move is a significant threat to the Constitutional right to privacy in Finland.

On the international stage, Finland is party to international Covenants, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), that oblige state parties to ensure that every individual enjoys the right to privacy. Article 8 of the ECHR - ratified by Finland on 10 May, 1990, explicitly provides for the right to privacy! Article 8(2) of the Convention states that:
"There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. "

Is this scheme by Itella in accordance with the law?

You might argue that the scheme is in accordance with the law because the workers in charge of opening and scanning letters are bound to secrecy and not allowed to read the letters. This is a valid argument, but is the opening of letters necessary in a democratic society?

Considering the fact that after opening, scanning and distributing the letters electronically, the physical letters will still be placed in envelopes and delivered normally to the receiver's address, it's my [legal] opinion that the scheme is not "necessary in a democratic society", hence a violation of the fundamental right to privacy.

What's your opinion on the matter? Is there a violation of the right to privacy?

Would you like Itella - a state-owned company to open your letters?

It is worth mentioning that this unconstitutional process, according to Itella, is a trial of future mail delivery methods. It is already underway in Anttila, a village close to Finland's capital - Helsinki. The company plans to extend the process to other areas, if it proves to be successful.

Human rights advocates - including me, will be concerned if this move erodes the right to privacy in Finland.


  1. How very strange. i live in Kuusamo, northern Finland and I've never heard of this. I don't really understand the point. why would getting a copy of your mail electronically help in anyway? Surely if it was urgent the person sending it could do the exact same thing without violating any laws.

  2. Can they convince people that they don't read the letters? If the sole purpose of this is to try out a new mail delivery method, then I guess it is wrong. They would be right to do so if there are evidences of the threats identified in art8(2)of the ECHR. Have the legal minds found anything right/wrong with this?

  3. It is a disturbing matter although I think the main idea is to cut costs by sending mail electronically. Is there something similar going on in Sweden or in other EU countries?


Search this Blog

Related Posts with Thumbnails