Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has criticised the handover of confidential information to the City of Helsinki by the National Bureau of Investigation. The socially acceptable objective of combatting organised crime did not justify this action, because the handover of confidential information to another authority must be grounded in law.
City aimed to ascertain the backgrounds of a rental candidate
The City of Helsinki asked the police for information on whether companies planning to rent a certain property were connected to the Bandidos Motorcycle Club. The National Bureau of Investigation issued a statement on the matter, in which certain persons were identified as members of the club. After that the City informed the rental candidate that it would most probably give a negative decision in the matter.
The disclosure of confidential information must have legal grounds
The Ombudsman stated that a person’s membership of the club in question was confidential information according to the Act on the Openness of Government Activities. According to this Act, public authorities may only exchange confidential information if specially provided for by law. No such provisions were applicable in this case.
Due to the protection of personal data and privacy under the constitution, the handover of personal data considered confidential has been carefully regulated. Such regulations have been enacted for example in the Act on Security Clearances, although this Act did not apply to this particular case.
In its legal review of the matter, the National Police Board concurred with the view of the Ombudsman.
Combatting crime is extremely important
The Ombudsman regards the combatting of organised crime as a key issue. However, the fact that the police has this task and a socially acceptable motive for acting accordingly does not, in itself, justify the disclosure of confidential information to another authority. Organised crime may only be combatted by lawful means.
According to the police there is a need for the handover of information of this kind. Extensive cooperation between public authorities over matters such as information exchange has been used to combat organised crime in various European countries. The Ombudsman stated that, if the National Police Board views that the current legislation provides insufficient means of combatting organised crime, it has the option of engaging in the development of the required legislation.
Decision 4963/2017 by Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen is available in full in Finnish on the Ombudsman’s website www.oikeusasiamies.fi/
For further details on the matter, contact Juha Haapamäki, Principal Legal Adviser, on +358 (0)9 432 3334.