Sweden’s new wiretapping law

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sweden’s new wiretapping law ‘much worse than the Stasi’
10 Jun 08

With just a week to go before the Swedish parliament is expected to pass a controversial wiretapping law, Pirate Party leader Rickard Falkvinge urges people to do all they can to block the legislation.

On June 17th the Swedish parliament is set to vote on the introduction of a new “signal surveillance” law.

What the law means is that all telephone and internet operators will be forced to attach a large cable to the state’s supercomputer, where the state will be able to keep a record of everything said in telephone conversations, surfed on the web or written on the internet.

The law can best be described by the more explanatory term “general surveillance”. Instead of just criminal suspects having their phones tapped, now everyone will be tapped via their phones, emails, web surfing, faxes etc.

But the state won’t keep a record of everything. First it will scan all phone calls, emails and so on, in real time. Anything that is “considered interesting” on the basis of 250,000 search criteria, will be saved for further investigation.

All our phone calls, emails and surfing habits will be observed by Sweden’s National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets Radioanstalt – FRA), which is why the proposed legislation is known as the “FRA law”.

There are no courts involved, and the government and all its agencies – including the police and the security police – will be able to snoop around in the tapped phone and email correspondence of its citizens.

This is much, much worse than the East German Stasi, which was only capable of tapping a small sector of the population. This is also something that has been pointed out by German members of parliament with first-hand experience of the Stasi.

Proponents of the law say it “only concerns cross-border communications”. Unfortunately this is a bare-faced lie. Records of communications will be kept at 20 nodal points, strategically placed to capture all communications that cross Sweden’s borders. But any internal communications that happen to come into contact with any one of these nodes will also be analyzed by the state. Essentially this means that everyone will be affected since, for technical reasons, most phone calls and emails between two Swedes pass through another country.

Proponents say that “this has absolutely nothing to do with Swedes; FRA isn’t allowed to investigate Swedes if there is no substantial cause”. This is a dishonest formulation. Another way of saying exactly the same thing would be: “FRA may snoop on Swedes as part of this mass wiretapping scheme if certain criteria are met”. In fact, the entire statement is dishonest, since the legislation up for debate only concerns signal surveillance for the military. What these people don’t mention is that the FRA already carries out surveillance for the police using exactly the same staff and the same wiretapping network.

Proponents say that “only a very small amount of information will be listened to”, and refer to the pieces of information that will be sifted out for further examination. This is also a direct lie. Everything will be listened to. Whatever information is then selected for further examination is irrelevant; the violation of personal integrity occurs when the state gives itself access to its citizens’ private communications, not when one of the search terms it uses to filter the data happens to match.

Democracy is reliant on the transparency of power, not the transparency of citizens. All places where the opposite has been the case – where it has been impossible to examine the powers that be, while citizens lack any right to a private life – have been really nasty places to live.

Signal surveillance is supposed to protect us against external threats. In reality, however, it is the surveillance itself that constitutes a direct threat against Swedish democracy.

Aftonbladet has written about the law today (the first time old media have really contributed to the debate). Unfortunately they present the proponents’ propaganda as fact. Proponents of the law have shown themselves to be completely unreliable. On May 31st I put forward evidence [in Swedish] showing that they know they are breaking the constitution but they just don’t care.

The Pirate Party has long campaigned for the right to a private life. For example, we held a demonstration in central Stockholm recently demanding the right to civil liberties and for an end to all plans for general surveillance.

A campaign site has just gone online called Stoppa FRA-lagen! (Stop the FRA law) with more information about this draconian piece of legislation.

It’s high time to get involved. Write to your local member of parliament, talk to friends and acquaintances about what’s happening. Anything. Just do something. Before it’s too late.

Rickard Falkvinge


New tools needed to ‘preempt national security threats’

10 Jun 08

The Centre Party‘s Staffan Danielsson, who sits on the Riksdag‘s Committee on Defence, explains why he supports Sweden’s controversial new surveillance legislation.

Sweden’s new surveillance legislation has garnered its fair share critics, but I for one will be voting in favour when the bill is put to the vote in parliament next week.

The proposed law entails using automated search terms to gather information that will be used to preempt serious national security threats. The introduction of the law is a necessary measure if Sweden is to avoid becoming a safe haven for terrorists and other organized criminal networks.

The tapping of telephone calls and email correspondence does of course raise a number of issues from a civil liberties standpoint. But personal integrity concerns need also to be weighed against our duty to protect the country’s security.

All this constitutes a very difficult balancing act. As we in the Centre Party are committed to protecting civil liberties, we have taken steps to ensure that the rights of the individual are given pride of place in the proposal.

We have come a long way towards improving the proposal since it was first tabled several years ago by the previous Social Democratic government. For example, we have ensured that the law will be subject to an official review in 2011, when we will evaluate its success and establish whether any changes need to be made.

I have received many comments to the effect that the surveillance law represents a threat to democracy in Sweden. To this I reply that Sweden has a very fine tradition of democracy, which will continue to prevail once the law is passed.

Surveillance systems are needed if we are to protect ourselves against the threats posed by terrorism and organized crime. Similar systems exists in a number of countries around the world. Unlikely many other countries, however, Sweden has been very open about the development of an effective surveillance system.

A number of visitors to my blog have suggested that Google and a range of other major international companies will sever their ties with Sweden as a direct consequence of our signal surveillance law. But to this I respond with another question: Where will Google and these other companies go? And isn’t Google’s head office in the United states?

A number of people have also suggested that the legislative proposal runs counter to Swedish law. But the Council on Legislation (Lagrådet) has approved the law and their suggestions have become part of the bill that will pass though parliament next week. What’s more, a broad majority of parliamentarians agree that we require a regulated signal surveillance system of this kind.

This is, I repeat, a very difficult issue. But a series of opinion polls have shown that the Swedish people share our analysis that more surveillance is necessary if we are to keep external threats at bay.

Staffan Danielsson



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