ENDitorial: Wiretapping – the Swedish way

By EDRi · August 27, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

The Swedish Parliament, Riksdagen, adopted 18 June 2008 a law which
obliges all telecom and Internet providers to transfer all communication
that passes the Swedish border to Försvarets radioanstalt (FRA), or the
National Defence Radio Establishment as it is officially called in
English. It is the Swedish national authority for signals intelligence.

Even though domestic Internet communication is between two persons residing
Sweden, the same information may cross national borders through Germany,
Denmark and USA. That is how the Internet works. This means that all Swedes
as well as people residing outside of Sweden may be subject to the
surveillance of FRA. FRA may transfer information to other countries and the
Guardian has recently reported (7 August 2008) of a Secret EU security draft
which would give USA “Wholesale exchange of (personal) data”. It is within a
greater international perspective one should view the Swedish legislation.

It is possible that Sweden has the most valuable information. 80 % of the
Russian telecom and internet communication passes through Sweden. Thus, it
is not an accident that FRA has one of the most powerful computers in the
world, together with some computers in the USA and one computer in the UK
which operates computations on nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing debate
over the true motive for the adoption of the law. This is only one of the
theories. Many countries and companies, including Finland, Norway, Google
and TeliaSonera, use the Swedish cables and are very critical of the FRA
wiretapping law.

The FRA wiretapping law adopted in June 2008 consists of four statutes,
including a newly adopted statute on signals intelligence and changes in
three other statutes.

The law will enter into force by 1 January 2009 and the actual operations
will start later in the year. FRA has a mandate to search for “external
threats”, which involves everything from military threats, terrorism,
IT-security, supply problems, ecological imbalances, ethnic and religious
conflicts, migration to economic challenges in the form of currency and
interest speculation. This very broad mandate has attracted a lot of
criticism. There is no requirement that the FRA should have a reason to
suspect crime or a court order before a Swedish citizen is to be under
surveillance. This must be seen against the background that the police may
ask FRA for support in its efforts of crime control.

In contrast to what the law actually says, the Government denies that the
police may use the FRA and say that FRA will only monitor “phenomena” and
not individuals. The critics ask how it is possible to monitor phenomena
without monitoring individuals.

As one of the critics, I have accused the Government of “doublethink” and
“newspeak” in their defence of the law. The Governments statements are full
of contradictions, which they ignore. The main Government Party in a
coalition of four parties even deny the core of the law, which obligates all
telecom and Internet providers to transfer all communication that passes the
Swedish border to FRA.

In the eve of the vote of 18 June 2008 there were strong indications that
more than the necessary four parliamentarians of the centre-right coalition
would shift side and thus deny the adoption of the statutes. There was
intense pressure on these parliamentarians and on the day before the vote,
Fredrick Federley, a critic in the centre party, struck a deal with the
Minister of Defence, Sten Tolgfors, which involved that additional
protection would be added in the interest of privacy at a later point in
time. This made the resistance in the coalition parties to crumble.

In the end, only one parliamentarian shifted sides, Camilla Lindberg, of
the liberal party who became a national hero while Fredrick Federley, in the
eyes of many, lost a lot of credibility as a civil rights promoter. Another
member of the liberal group, Birgitta Ohlsson, abstained. The two members of
the liberal group had concerns that the additional protection would not
change the fact that the law obliges all telecom and Internet providers to
transfer all communication that passes the Swedish border to FRA.

This did not quiet the critics. By 14 July 2008 the resistance in the
liberal party had regrouped and they published an op-editorial in the daily
Dagens Nyheter signed by the necessary four parliamentarians and three
previous party leaders representing 25 years of leadership in the liberal
party, all demanding the Government should recall the law. Later, two
liberal parliamentarians joined the other four and stated live on TV that
they were willing to support a motion to recall the law. The Government is
making serious efforts to divide the group and make one or several of them
return to the Government side.

As of this date, the Government has not been successful. The six liberal
parliamentarians must team up with the social democrats, the green party and
the left before the end of September 2008. After that, it is impossible to
table motions from the opposition which will enter into force during 2009
and recall the law.

To conclude, the showdown for Swedish wiretapping by FRA is in September

Government Proposal on Defence Intelligence (only in Swedish, 8.03.2007)

Secret EU security draft risks uproar with call to pool policing
and give US personal data (7.08.2008)

EDRi-gram: ENDitorial: Sweden is listening to all internet and phone
conversations (2.07.2008)

EDRi-gram: ENDitorial: A new “NSA FRAnchise” set up in Sweden? (4.06.2008)

You may leave comments or opinions for this article on the author’s blog

(contribution by Mark Klamberg – Doctoral candidate, Stockholm University –
Department of Law)