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Swedish press slams proposed surveillance law

Swedish press slams proposed surveillance law

Published: 13 Jun 2008 20:14 GMT+02:00
Updated: 13 Jun 2008 20:14 GMT+02:00

David Landes takes a look at what Sweden's papers have to say about the proposed surveillance law in the days leading up to next week's Riksdag vote.

There are few, if any, supportive voices in the mainstream Swedish press when it comes to the controversial surveillance bill set to be debated in the Riksdag on June 17th.

Every major newspaper addressing the issue this week on their opinion pages condemns the measure, and urges politicians to vote against it when the time comes.

The bill would give Sweden's National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets Radioanstalt - FRA) enhanced authority to monitor all emails and telephone calls which cross Sweden’s borders.

In calling for the proposal to be voted down, the Göteborgs-Posten (GP) newspaper examines two aspects which it finds particularly troubling.

First, the paper points out the slippery slope facing FRA when it comes to interpreting just how far the agency’s powers are extended by changing its mandate from monitoring “external military threats” to monitoring “external threats” of all kinds.

“The term is so diffuse that it becomes open for free interpretation. The other ‘external threats’ named—such as migration flows, epidemics, and oil spills—illustrate this,” writes GP.

“No matter how many threats are taken into consideration, it’s nevertheless doubtful that they are really so great that they legitimize the infringement on privacy which is now upon us.”

And while GP acknowledges that the proposal has new requirements designed to protect the privacy of individuals, such as the need for further regulations on when surveillance can happen and how permission will be handed out, it doubts whether the measures are sufficient.

“The fact remains that the controlling apparatus which will manage the handing out of permission and its review is inadequate. The Armed Forces’ intelligence board will deal with both of these questions,” the paper explains.

“An advance examination and a follow-up review don’t at all correspond to the independent judicial review which the Ministry of Justice, among others, required earlier in its consultation response. And that those responsible for operations will be gathered in a privacy protection board placed within FRA and which will review itself is of little value from a rule of law perspective.”

GP also finds it “incomprehensible” that the government didn’t take advantage of the time afforded by the delay put on the bill last year to work on creating a better proposal which addressed critics' concerns about a “controversial question of national security”.

It hopes that Riksdag members wrestling with the issue ahead of the vote, such as the Centre Party’s Fredrik Federley, will “realize the importance of being faithful to their personal opinions” before it is too late.

The Sydsvenskan newspaper entitles its short commentary “Sound scepticism toward surveillance” and cites a Sveriges Radio interview given by the leader of the Centre Party’s youth wing, who has come out strongly against the proposal.

“It’s about citizens being able to keep what’s theirs to themselves while the state should be transparent. Now it’s beginning to change and I think that feels unpleasant,” said Andersson.

Sydsvenskan sums things up thusly:

“The law’s publicized intent is to protect Sweden from outside threats. But it risks being transformed into an inner threat.”

In its analysis, Svenksa Dagbladet (SvD) starts off by questioning the gravity of the terrorist threat facing Sweden.

“Do we find ourselves in a situation where the threat from border-crossing terrorism and criminality trumps the luxury of holding onto principles?” asks SvD.

In SvD’s estimation, the answer to the question isn’t exactly in the affirmative. The paper sees those who support the proposed law as adhering to a hawk’s world view, and in clinging to their belief that threats lurk around every corner, these hawks actually have more in common with pacifists than they’d like to admit.

Both, argues SvD, often get stuck on “autopilot” and forget to make adjustments to changing conditions:

“The pacifist’s hardened opposition against war—irrespective of the situation—is just as naïve and inhuman as the hawk’s standing demand that we should “take responsibility” for every terrible thing that could happen—even if it costs us exactly the thing that the hawk wants to protect: an open society.”

At the end of the day, SvD is sceptical as to whether the threat level facing Sweden justifies the price society stands to pay for the protections afforded by the surveillance law:

“The hope is that a number of Riksdag members will shut down the autopilot, write up their plus and minus lists, and afterwards, release their principle-laden fingers and vote no.”

Where the main newspapers stand:

Dagens Nyheter, "independently liberal", Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Svenska Dagbladet, "independently liberal-conservative",

Stockholm-based, owned by Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Göteborgs-Posten, "independently liberal",

Gothenburg-based, owned by the Stampen media group.

Sydsvenska Dagbladet (Sydsvenskan), "independently liberal", Malmö-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

Aftonbladet, "independently Social Democrat", Stockholm-based, owned by trade union federation LO and Norwegian media company Schibsted.

Expressen, "independently liberal", Stockholm-based, owned by the Bonnier family.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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