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Finland parliament weakens constitutional privacy right to pass security law

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Finland parliament weakens constitutional privacy right to pass security law

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HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's parliament voted on Wednesday to add new exceptions to a clause in the constitution that guarantees the right to privacy, to enable swift approval of an intelligence bill aimed at combating terrorism and spying by foreign governments.

Finland's constitution guarantees the protection of private correspondence except where needed to solve a crime.

The new language would create another exception to give the police and security forces the authority to snoop on emails and other messages to gather information about "military or other activity that threatens national security".

The measure was backed by 178 lawmakers with only 13 voting against the government's proposed fast-track changes to the constitution.

"It is the parliament's clear will that protecting national security is indispensable also by the means of telecommunications intelligence," Interior Minister Kai Mykkanen told public broadcaster YLE after the vote.

Drafting of the new intelligence law had begun already in 2013 but the process was accelerated last year by the country's first Islamist militant attack. Two people were killed and eight wounded in a knife attack in August 2017 by a Moroccan asylum seeker. The man was sentenced to life in prison in June.

Last year the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) raised its terrorism threat level to "elevated" from "low".

Fast-track changes to Finland's constitution are very rare and require a majority of five-sixths of parliament. The changes were pushed through with the help of some opposition parties, with only the opposition Left Alliance party opposed.

"I'm perplexed by how lightly lawmakers take fast-track changes to the constitution... this will become a precedent that will have an effect on how the constitution will be changed in the future," party leader Li Andersson said.

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Jussi Rosendahl and Peter Graff)

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