Supo: Spreading fake news on behalf of a foreign power should be illegal

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While the Finnish Intelligence and Security Service (SUPO) wants to tackle disinformation, criminal justice experts have reservations about the proposal.

Supo has proposed to criminalize spreading disinformation on behalf of a foreign actor. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

The Finnish Intelligence and Security Service (SUPO) has proposed criminalizing information disseminated on behalf of a foreign state.

According to Supo, it would be necessary to evaluate and find out whether the most egregious forms of disinformation should be criminalized.

The proposal emerged from a statement from Supo’s director, Antti Pelttaricto a Parliamentary Transport and Communications Committee regarding recent changes in the security environment.

According to the April statement, this law would apply to situations where a foreign intelligence agency or a person acting on behalf of a foreign intelligence agency seeks to maliciously influence the decision-making of the Finnish state or society.

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MP Ari Koponen (Finns) adopted Supo’s proposal in May and submitted a draft measure to parliament. Koponen suggested that the government take steps to implement Supo’s recommendations.[osedthatthegovernmenttakemeasurestoimplementSupo’srecommendations[osedthatthegovernmenttakemeasurestoimplementSupo’srecommendations

In a statement to Yle, Pelttari’s deputy in Supo Teemu Turunen stressed that, in his view, any criminalization should be strictly limited.

“Of course it is paramount that freedom of expression is fully respected in the rule of law,” Turunen clarified.

He went on to say that this measure would target those who deliberately spread disinformation.

“These are situations where a person knows that he or she is acting on behalf of a foreign intelligence agency and continues to do so despite warnings from authorities,” Turunen said.

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Professor of criminal law has reservations

Kimmo NuotoA professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki has reservations about the proposed law.

“Yes, I would say that the real protection against information interference comes through the public debate and the media. In our country, information literacy significantly weakens the ability of foreign actors to influence public opinion,” Nuotio told Yle.

He did say that it might make sense to codify certain aspects of disinformation.

“However, it is quite possible that a well-defined criminalization of this area is possible,” Nuotio added.

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Needs to be defined further

Turunen and Nuotio agreed that the articles of the Criminal Code are quite dated given the current information and media environment. However, Nuotio stressed that reform of the law should be long-term.

“It seems that such reforms may come from countries that are not good role models for us. The interest in free speech is extremely important,” Nuotio said.

According to Nuotio, if the idea were implemented, a precise delineation of what constitutes intentional disinformation would be important.

The proposal is not intended to target the activities of so-called “useful idiots”. A useful idiot is defined as an actor who spreads another party’s propaganda or acts in the interest of another, without necessarily being fully aware of it.

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