Finland aims to fast-track new intelligence laws to avert terrorism

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's centre-right government is planning to give authorities new powers to monitor citizens online in a fast-track legislative move aimed at countering threats like terrorism and spying.

The draft law, presented on Wednesday, would allow the Finnish intelligence service to monitor citizens' data communications beyond Finnish borders if there is a suspicion of a "serious threat" against national security.

Currently, the service is allowed to gather information only on an individual crime suspect inside Finnish borders.

Finland raised its terrorist threat level in 2015 to "low" from "very low" and has grown more concerned after recent attacks in neighbouring Sweden and Russia.

The new plan requires changes to the constitutional law on privacy protection and the government wants to push it through in an accelerated procedure, which needs the backing of five-sixths of the deputies in parliament.

"Our operating environment has changed rapidly ... It is clear that these amendments mark a big change in the society, this is a sensitive issue, but this change has become necessary," Interior Minister Paula Risikko told journalists.

A working group behind the proposed measures underlined that all intelligence would be carefully targeted, and in most instances, permits would be applied for in advance from a court.

"Finland is one of the only western democracies that does not have (such) legislation on intelligence," said an official report on the plan, adding that countries where authorities have somewhat similar powers included Germany, Denmark and Norway.

Some lawmakers have opposed any fast-track approval. "If the law on intelligence is being hurried up, it creates a precedent on adjusting fundamental rights," said Li Andersson, chairwoman of opposition party Left Alliance.

The government, which has complained of increased Russian military activity in the Nordic region, said it was also looking to boost powers for military intelligence, and to establish a new authority to oversee all intelligence operations.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Tom Heneghan)