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Finnish authority demands answers on US embassy surveillance

HELSINKI, November 10, 2010 (AFP) - Finland's top data protection official said Wednesday he had asked the Supo security police to clarify whether the US embassy in Helsinki violated privacy laws during what it claims was routine surveillance.

"I am interested in knowing how this surveillance happens, whether it is limited to the area around the embassy, and whether the information collected was passed on to a third party," said Finland's Data Protection Ombudsman Reijo Aarnio.

Aarnio, whose post is an independent agency connected to the justice ministry, told AFP he had made his request to Supo on Tuesday and was looking at the matter from a personal privacy standpoint, and not from the point of view of national security.

In neighbouring Sweden, Denmark and Norway, US embassies are suspected of conducting illegal intelligence activities through their surveillance detection programmes, although the missions themselves insist they have acted within the laws of their host countries.

Supo said this week the US embassy in Helsinki had produced a satisfactory explanation of its activities, and that it does not plan to open an investigation.

"In our opinion nothing illegal has taken place in regards to security as far as our jurisdiction goes," Supo spokeswoman Liinu Lehto-Seljavaara told AFP, but could not divulge details of the embassy's reply.

She said that Supo will deliver an explanation of how it arrived at its conclusion to Aarnio, but that this does not involve opening an investigation into the activities of the embassy.

The US embassy in Helsinki said in a statement its programme operates "in accordance with all Finnish laws and with full knowledge of and in conjunction with Supo."

Supo is expected to hand over its report to the Data Protection Ombudsman before the end of the year.

In Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, where investigations have been opened into the US embassies' activities, national officials have insisted they were never informed of the surveillance, which extended to monitoring demonstrations and storing personal information about protestors.

 

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