For some reason you'd think the electronic surveillance epidemic sweeping the world might bypass Sweden.
You'd be wrong.
The Swedish government like governments everywhere it seems has this peculiar need to listen in.
A week or so ago (while I was away from my desk) Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt won a narrow victory in his parliament allowing Sweden to spy on cross-border email and telephone traffic and snoop into how people even send faxes.
The new law has drawn the ire of folks all over the place.
“By introducing these new measures, the Swedish government is following the examples set by governments ranging from China and Saudi Arabia to the US government’s highly criticised eavesdropping program,” said Peter Fleischer of Google.
Speaking on a recent visit to Sweden (and before the passage of the law), Fleischer, the company's global privacy counsel, warned that Google would rule out making any major investments in Sweden should the controversial bill become law.
"We have contacted Swedish authorities to give our view of the proposal and we have made it clear that we will never place any servers inside Sweden's borders if the proposal goes through," Fleischer told Internet World.
Critics of the new law said it represented Europe’s most far-reaching eavesdropping plan.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) expressed "incredulity and dismay" with the new law.
"It is astonishing that one of Europe's oldest democracies where model standards of press freedom have been taken for granted has dealt such a blow to civil liberties," said IFJ/EFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "No journalist anywhere in Europe can now be certain that their work is not subject to official surveillance, that their telephones are not being tapped and that they can with any confidence protect their sources," he said.
The wiretapping bill had been heavily criticized by journalists, lawyers, bloggers, all political parties’ youth organizations - as well as the head of the Swedish intelligence agency Säpo. Also, all of the four daily newspapers’ senior political editors were heavily opposed.
The public demonstrated in the streets against the bill (see picture).
All to no avail.
Agneta Lindblom Hulthén, chairwoman of the Swedish Union of Journalists (Journalistförbundet), said all privacy safeguards would vanish with the new law.
"There is a limit to what a democracy can do to protect democracy without itself becoming undemocratic," she told news agency TT. The Swedish Journalists Association had heavily campaigned against the proposal as an attack on civil liberties that would create a 'big brother' state.
Anne Ramberg, secretary general of the Swedish Bar Association, is calling for challenges to the law in Swedish and European courts saying that this sort of law would have been unthinkable before September 11.
The Local (Sweden) wrote of the new 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."
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."
Millions of ordinary Swedes have been letting the government know they can't stand the new law. More than two million of them have emailed their lawmakers in opposition. This in a country of only nine million.
The following is from Jurist.
Sweden wiretapping law opposed by millions of petitioners
[JURIST] Millions of Swedish citizens have filed electronic petitions against the country's newly approved electronic wiretapping law according to news reports Wednesday. The law was narrowly approved earlier this month and gives the country's National Defence Radio Establishment broad authority to monitor international telephone and electronic communications passing through the country. Upon passage, opponents warned that the bill could also be used to intercept domestic communications and more recently one business leader said that it may drive high-tech companies out of the country The new law is scheduled to take effect in January 2009.
Warrantless wiretaps have been an increasingly controversial topic as officials struggle to balance civil liberties with security concerns. In February, a Canadian judge ruled that Section 184.4 of the Canadian Criminal Code which allows law enforcement officers to electronically intercept private communications in "exceptional circumstances" without court authorization, is unconstitutional because it violates "the fundamental freedom to be free from unreasonable search and seizure" protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In March, the US House of Representatives narrowly passed a controversial bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Security Act that would extend government power to eavesdrop on individuals within the US under judicial oversight but not grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that had previously allowed the government to eavesdrop on their lines as part of its warrantless wiretapping program.