Minister rejects opposition ‘games’ on snoop law

Sweden's defence minister has rejected an invitation from the Social Democrats to negotiate about the country's controversial new surveillance law.

Rejecting the Social Democrats’ initiative as “just a game”, Sten Tolgfors said the opposition party had not demonstrated a serious willingness to make a deal. The Social Democrats, which opposed the government’s law in parliament, had not made any proposal of their own. They had simply vowed to tear up the law if they were elected, Tolgfors said.

Tolgfors demanded to know how the Social Democrats would replace the law, which gives Sweden’s eavesdropping agency sweeping powers to monitor electronic communications between Sweden and the wider world.

“A party which claims to want to form a government has to be able to provide answers on something that affects the most central elements of Sweden’s security interests – the military intelligence service and electronic surveillance.”

In a joint statement with the Green Party released on Tuesday, the Social Democrats called for the law to be “ripped up” and said they would overturn it if elected in 2010, but fell short of making detailed proposals for a replacement law.

In the statement, Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin and Green Party spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand said the government needed to “start again from the beginning with a broad and open legislative process, with time for the various players involved in the question to examine, influence and discuss.”

Sahlin and Wetterstrand added that the current law was “a threat to personal integrity.”

Tolgfors said that the government’s bill had improved initial proposals from the Social Democrats, which were tabled in 2003. Nine out of ten objections raised by the Social Democrats when the current bill was tabled were taken into account. Only the demand that Swedish Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) would restrict its activities to dealing with military threats had not been incorporated.

“This would mean we were not protecting ourselves against IT attacks, serious international crimes such as terror financing and biological attacks,” he said.

The minister also presented a list of other countries with laws permitting and regulating eavesdropping, in an effort to show that Sweden was far from being the only country to enact such laws.

Tolgfors said the controversy over the law had made it hard to have a nuanced debate, but he welcomed the fact that the chief of Sweden’s defence staff, Supreme Commander Håkan Syrén, had testified on Monday to the armed forces’ need for intelligence.

The minister added that the governing parties needed to get better at countering criticism generated in online debates.

Meanwhile, discussions within the governing coalition about the new law have continued, with the Centre Party proposing a ‘truth commission’ to investigate FRA’s previous operations. The party also proposed constitutional guarantees for people’s personal integrity and the establishment of a constitutional court.