Data protection of electronic communications and traffic data is governed by the Act on Electronic Communications Services.
- Electronic communications include phone calls, emails, SMS, MMS and voice messages, instant messages and online messages.
- Traffic data include telephone numbers, email addresses and IP addresses. Traffic data is information that is used to transmit, distribute or provide messages in communications networks, and they can be associated with a subscriber or user.
Processing rights of parties to communication
Under the Act on Electronic Communications Services, parties to communication are entitled to process their own electronic messages and the traffic data associated with these messages unless otherwise provided by law. In addition, electronic messages and traffic data may be processed with the consent of the party to the communication, or if permitted by law. Whoever receives or obtains in any other way knowledge of an electronic message, radio communication or traffic data not intended for him or her shall not disclose or make use of the content or traffic data of such a message, or the knowledge of its existence, without the consent of a party to the communication, unless otherwise provided by law.
In other words, the sender and the intended recipient may, in principle, process the communication between themselves but third parties may not process such communication.
- It is legal to record your own phone calls, for example.
- The confidentiality of communications is not violated, either, if a party to communication forwards a message, for example an email, he or she has received to a third party, unless the secrecy is based on some other act or agreement.
- A recipient of a message is allowed to tell others about the message he or she has received and its contents unless the recipient is bound by a specific non-disclosure obligation. For example, a person in the service of an authority may be bound by a non-disclosure obligation under the Act on the Openness of Government Activities.
Processing rights and obligations of communications providers
Under the Act on Electronic Communications Services, communications providers, including telecommunications operators, corporate and associate subscribers and other parties that convey electronic communications, may process messages and traffic data only to the extent necessary for transmitting communications, implementing the agreed service and for the purpose of ensuring information security as provided by law.
The Act on Electronic Communications Services also contains provisions on communications providers’ rights to process electronic communications and traffic data for purposes, such as billing, marketing and technical development.
In certain cases, the subscriber to a communications service and some authorities have the right to obtain information on the user’s communications from telecommunications operators.
Besides processing rights, the Act contains provisions on communications providers’ obligations related to processing of electronic communications and traffic data. The Act provides, for example, that after processing, electronic messages and traffic data must be destroyed or rendered such that they cannot be associated with the subscriber or user involved, unless otherwise provided by law.
In addition to confidential communications, there is public communications. Traffic data related to public communications are confidential, too. Operators involved in the transmission of communications, such as telecommunications operators and corporate and associate subscribers, may process this data only for the purposes provided by law. They are also bound by a non-disclosure obligation regarding traffic data.
A provider of a message board or a similar service intended for publication of messages has the right to publish traffic data related to the messages posted on the forum, if permitted under the terms of the service. These services are comparable to a newspaper’s letters to the editor section, which is also a forum for publishing writings under the writer’s own name or a pseudonym.
Responsibility for the contents of a published message and the publishers’ duty to disclose the source of information or writer of an anonymous message is provided by law.
Limitations to confidential communications and penalties for message interception
It is possible to limit the right to confidential communications, for example, in some criminal investigations.
The police have the right to intercept and monitor telecommunications when investigating certain types of crimes. In addition, emergency services authorities have the right to obtain information on the location of the subscriber connection of users making emergency calls and users in distress.
Message interception is a crime. For example, it is punishable to obtain information on a message which is protected from outsiders by hacking.
The NCSC-FI at Traficom supervises that communications providers implement their network and communications services securely so that the confidentiality of the communications is not endangered. Furthermore, the NCSC-FI guides and monitors that communications providers process confidential communications in accordance with the related statutory rights and obligations.
The Data Protection Ombudsman supervises the processing of location data related to personal data and communications. This means data available from a communications network or terminal device that shows the geographic location of a subscriber connection or terminal device.
All criminal matters related to confidential communications should be reported to the police.