The plan has been denounced by critics as an attack on civil liberties, and the result of the parliamentary vote — due Wednesday — is thought too close to call.
“I can’t imagine that this law would meet the requirements stipulated in the European Convention on Human Rights,” David Banisar of the human rights watchdog Privacy International told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.
The new legislation would enable the National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) — a civilian agency despite its name — to tap all cross-border Internet and telephone communication.
Under the current law, FRA, which cracked Nazi codes during World War II and was Sweden’s ear on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is only allowed to monitor military radio communications.
The Defence Ministry, which hammered out the proposal, insists that the new legislation is necessary in today’s changed world, where communications are increasingly transmitted through fiberoptic cables and not through the ether.
Without the new legislation “we risk missing 95 percent of all traffic,” Moderate Party MP Karin Enström told parliament, quoted by news agency TT.
“This is about protecting Swedish soldiers’ lives on international missions. Swedish monitoring can provide decisive information about their security,” Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors added.
Left Party MP Alice Åström said however that “the proposal makes it possible to monitor everyone without there being any suspicion of a crime.
Even people who have committed serious crimes have more protection under the law.”
Lawmakers were due to vote on the centre-right government’s proposal early on Wednesday, with the outcome highly uncertain.
The government holds a slim seven-seat majority, and with the left-wing opposition vehemently opposed to the proposal, just four “no” votes within the coalition would be enough to sink it.
Several coalition MPs have voiced their opposition but were under intense pressure to toe the party line.
Critics, who include the opposition as well as journalists, lawyers and even the former head of the Swedish intelligence agency Säpo, argue the legislation does not go far enough in safeguarding individual rights.
While the government said it would only monitor cross-border communications, many emails sent within Sweden are in fact transmitted through servers located abroad and would therefore be subject to scrutiny.