Five get suspended sentences in Sonera telephone record case
Helsinki District Court handed down suspended sentences on Friday to five defendants in the case involving unauthorised use of mobile telephone records by executives of the telecommunications service provider Sonera. All five were found guilty of violating telecommunications privacy.
Although the sentences were less severe than the prosecution had called for, the court generally agreed with the prosecutors’ assertion that there had been extensive misuse of telecommunications information at Sonera from 1998 to 2001.
The harshest sentence was handed down to former Information Security Manager Juha E. Miettinen, who got a ten-month suspended jail term. Former Sonera CEO Kaj-Erik Relander got six months suspended.
Miettinen’s subordinate, Security Chief Alpo Manninen, was given five months, and former Communications Manager Jari Jaakkola got a three-month suspended sentence.
The shortest suspended sentence was for former Information Security Manager Sari-Anna Pulkkinen, who got two months. The statute of limitations was seen to have run out on charges against one defendant, former Business Manager Jaakko Nevanlinna.
Two other defendants, an investigator for the National Bureau of Investigation, as well as Ari Uutinen, a former security chief at the Council of State (government), were fined for incitement to the main crime in the case, and for violating their official duties.
The court found a number of both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the case. One aggravating factor was the large number of targets of the illegal investigations. Another factor was the high position of the defendants in the company, their roles as initiators in the case, and their attempts to break the confidentiality between journalists and their sources.
Aggravating circumstances in Relander’s case included his high position in the company, and his role as initiator in the investigation. Adding to Miettinen’s culpability were the large number of victims, and his position in the company.
Mitigating circumstances for Manninen included Miettinen’s role as initiator of the proceedings. A major mitigating factor for all defendants was that the snooping did not go beyond tracing telephone records - digging up who called whom and when; there was no actual eavesdropping on conversations.
The defendants claimed that digging up the information was part of a legal investigation into suspected wrongdoing. The court found that the defendants should have been aware of the key aspects of the law on telecommunications data protection.
For instance, the court did not believe the claims of Miettinen, generally seen as the main defendant, who said that he had misunderstood the law. The court noted that Miettinen had written books on data protection, spoken at seminars in the field, and taken part at least to some extent in legislative work on the matter.
The court deliberated extensively on claims for damages by the targets of the snooping. Some demands for damages were as high as EUR 30,000. According to the decision, the mental suffering caused was not very great.
The defendants were ordered to pay the victims’ court costs, as well as damages of between EUR 400 and EUR 800.
The tracing of mobile telephone records began in 1998 as an attempt to find the source of leaks of information from the company to the press.
The snoopers also investigated communications between the company’s management and its board of directors, as well as the communications of former executives who had resigned from the company at short notice.
At one time, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Security Police, and the Helsinki Police were given telecommunications information in an investigation into the murder of a prostitute - even though that information would have been available through legal channels.
The activities came to an abrupt end in 2001 when a law student on a summer job in Sonera pointed out that such activities violate the data protection clause of the law on telecommunications.
After the decision, Relander and Jaakkola said that they would appeal.
In a comment sent from London, where he now works, Relander said that the interpretation of the court places "unreasonable demands" on those working in new technology on their knowledge of the law.
Jaakkola said that he was never in a position in which he could have given orders to Juha Miettinen. He also noted that he himself had been a victim of the snooping activities.
Juha Miettinen is also expected to submit an appeal.
Two legal experts interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat expressed satisfaction that the court placed so much weight on the right of journalists to protect their sources.
Pekka Koskinen, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Helsinki, was pleased that the attempt to find out a journalist’s sources of information was seen as an aggravating circumstance.
Ari-Matti Nuutila, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Turku, welcomed the court’s finding that the snooping of journalists’ sources was especially serious - on a par with violating doctor-patient or lawyer-client confidentiality.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Prosecution in Sonera case demands suspended prison sentences (24.3.2005)
Sonera trial: Relander admits knowledge of snooping, says he thought it was legal (4.3.2005)
Relander defence: Sonera internal security investigation legal (3.3.2005)
Sonera defendants deny deliberate violation of telecommunications privacy (8.2.2005)
Investigators say Sonera developed software to spy on personnel e-mail (13.9.2004)
Security Police leadership suspected of concealing involvement in Sonera snooping (26.8.2004)
Helsingin Sanomat investigative reporters win Bonnier prize for Sonera story (27.3.2003)
Sonera security unit studies phone records to find corporate information leaks (11.10.2002)