Big Brother law stirs outrage in Sweden

Sweeping new powers under which the Swedish security services can monitor private phone calls, e-mails and text messages are expected to come into force this week under legislation that has prompted outrage in the country.

Politicians, businesses, privacy campaigners and individual citizens have lined up to criticise the proposed law, which the Swedish Parliament will vote on tomorrow.

The Bill would grant the country’s intelligence agencies access to cross-border e-mails, phone calls, text messages and faxes, and empower them to monitor websites visited by Swedish citizens.

Since Scandinavia’s telephone network often routes local phone calls through exchanges in neighbouring countries, internet data and calls passing through Sweden on its way between two other countries would also fall within the jurisdiction of the new law.

Press freedom and individual privacy have traditionally been sacrosanct in Sweden, but fears about international crime and terrorism have prompted the country’s centre-right Government to extend the powers of the security services.

Previously, the state could apply for permission to monitor communications if illegal activity was suspected. Under the new law, government agents will be allowed to monitor messages by default.

Thousands of voters have contacted their MPs, urging them to vote against the proposals, but the law is expected to pass.

Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s leading quality newspaper, compared it with the powers of the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany, and Google said that it would stay out of Sweden if the law is passed.

“We have made it clear to the Swedish authorities that we will never place any Google servers in Sweden if this proposition becomes reality,” Peter Fleischer, a Google spokesman, said. “This proposal seems like something invented by Saudi Arabia and China. It has no place in a Western democracy.”

Journalists have also complained that the law would damage their ability to protect sources.

Tomorrow’s vote comes a month after The Times revealed plans to establish a database containing details of phone calls and e-mails in the UK. The information would be held for at least a year and the police and security services would be able to access it if given permission from the courts.

June 16, 2008
Marcus Oscarsson, Stockholm

Source: The Times

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