March 25, 2015 | Posted in:blog, News

This week has seen parliamentary bills and a resolution, of relevance to IMMI and the safe haven objective, submitted to Alþingi (Icelandic Parliament). Links are in Icelandic:

  • Bill on Whistleblower Protection (to be translated)
  • Bill removing a clause in Icelandic laws on Data Retention (to be translated)
  • Bill on changes to the penal code – appointing a solicitor for those individuals who are being monitored via wire tapping or other comparable means by the police
  • Bill on changes to laws on criminal procedure, whereby wire tapping and other comparable means of surveillance will only be authorized if a criminal investigation regards a crime punishable by a prison sentence of up to 8 years.
  • Resolution on establishing an office of Independent Oversight for police wire tapping procedures and other comparable investigative measures

Other bills and resolutions submitted to parliament this term of relevance to IMMI include:

  • Resolution on Equal Access to the Internet
  • Resolution on establishing an Ecosystem for the Utilization of the Internet and Protection of User Rights
  • Bill on abolishing anti-blasphemy laws
  • Bill on changes to the penal code: removing prison sentences for expression
  • Bill on Ministers’ obligation to provide parliament with information in a truthful manner (similar to the US’ False Statements and Accountability Act)

Data retention systematically violates our constitutionally protected right to privacy (also protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Iceland has ratified). Data retention is neither proportional nor effective, as studies have shown. Telecommunications carriers, as outlined in the law, will, due to the nature of their business, have to store certain data for a certain time to stem bills and manage accounting. IMMI believes that those data temporarily kept for accounting and processing purposes provides the police with the ability to seek access to data due to investigations into serious crimes. However, IMMI strongly advices that access to personal data (clearly including all metadata) should only be granted in case of investigations into very serious crimes for which there are prison sentences of 8 years or more.

Wire tapping is another issue of concern to individuals’ right to privacy, which, as a tool, can be helpful during investigations into major criminal activity. However, the Icelandic police has been granted wire tapping warrants in 99.3% of cases which raises alarms, especially when there is no independent body conducting oversight of those measures safeguarding individuals’ rights to privacy and to due process.

Whistleblower protection has been a cornerstone of IMMI’s objective in establishing a safe haven of freedom of expression and freedom of information in Iceland. The bill on whistleblower protection has been in the works for quite some time and IMMI looks forward to parliament debating this important issue. IMMI will have the bill translated into English, seeking feedback and observations from the IMMI advisory board and other experts, looking to promote the best possible version of whistleblower protection in Iceland.

The parliamentary resolution on Equal Access to the Internet re-defines “data service providers” as “common carriers”, in the spirit of Net Neutrality, whereby access to the Internet is part of our civil rights, reflecting of our 21st century reality. In the same vein, the resolution tasks parliament to work towards establishing country-wide high-level connectivity, arguing that this is as much a social and democratic issue – access to information, access to social participation and inclusion, access to communication platforms – as it is an urban vs. rural issue, affecting individuals’ access to employment, education, social services and health care services, which can be discriminatory on the grounds of location if equal access is not protected country-wide. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. adopted new rules, ensuring Net Neutrality. It is hoped that this step will inspire others to define access to the Internet as a social right, ensuring Net Neutrality worldwide. IMMI is one of many NGOs and organisations fighting for Net Neutrality globally.

The bill on abolishing anti-blasphemy laws is both way overdue and enjoys broad bipartisan support. It is important that our right to freedom of expression be protected in all forms – a right that is constitutionally protected in Iceland and in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The bill on changes to the Icelandic penal code, removing prison term sentences for expression is both necessary and fundamental for democratic society. This also takes to defamation cases, but we have recently seen a minister’s assistant ask for the highest sentencing of two journalists investigating a major scandal – the Leak Case – on the grounds of defamation. The action was heavily criticized by Reporters without Borders and the International Press Agency, as well as the state of Icelandic law on defamation due to it extending to prison sentences. This bill is an important step in establishing the safe haven IMMI works towards.

The resolution on establishing an Ecosystem for the Utilization of the Internet and Protection of User Rights is vast in scope and approaches very important topics. Its focus is to harness the power of the Internet, with view to the geographical advantages of Iceland, with low cost and clean energy, favorable climate and a highly educated population.  It seeks to strengthen innovation, the economy, increase foreign investment and jobs, and strengthen the academic institutions. The resolution also seeks to outline and safeguard user rights, in particular concerning privacy and freedom of information. A working group has been tasked with implementation and that process is expected to begin soon in which IMMI will participate.

All the bills regarding surveillance measures taken by police, including wire tapping, are relevant to individuals’ rights to privacy, governmental transparency, and to due process. Establishing an office of independent oversight for police conduct, including surveillance measures, is hugely important, safeguarding individuals right to privacy, holding power to account and promoting transparency. Requiring a third-party solicitor, safeguarding the rights of individuals who are being monitored by measures such as wire tapping, is another important safety mechanism better protecting our right to due process and privacy. It is important that such surveillance measures not be abused, and when they are, that there exists an independent watchdog keeping oversight. As it stands, if an individual wants to press charges against the police, they have to go to the police. Moreover, they may never know that they have been spied upon despite no charges ever being brought against them. With an office of independent oversight this dubious set-up would give way to more democratic and trustworthy protocols.

IMMI will closely follow the debate of these bills and resolutions and their implementation, and IMMI welcomes the opportunity to provide observations, feedback or advice on any of these matters.