Snoop law to be tried in European court

Peter Vinthagen Simpson
Peter Vinthagen Simpson - [email protected]

The Swedish government will have to defend the new FRA surveillance law in front of the European Court of Human Rights in a case filed by an independent law organization.


The Sweden-based Justice Center (Centrum för Rättvisa - CFR) announced on Monday that it has decided to refer Sweden's controversial surveillance law to the human rights court in Strasbourg.

Specifically, CFR contends the measure, which was narrowly approved by the Riksdag last month, violates Article 8 and Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights and has asked for judicial guidance.

Article 8 of the convention guarantees citizens' right to privacy, while Article 13 deals citizens' ability to hold national authorities to account for possible violations of the human rights convention.

"We want them to decide where the limits are between the need for state security and the right to privacy," said Clarence Crafoord of CFR to The Local.

CFR contends that the new FRA law is not specific enough and "too flossy" in its formulation.

Moreover, the group sees the law's description of the threats to be controlled and the types of communication that can be monitored as too vague.

"In the UK they talk about the nation's well-being. In Sweden they do that too as well as environmental threats, currency speculation and migrant movements. What does that mean?" wonders Crafoord.

CFR has based its case on a German case from 2006 as well as a recent ruling by the human rights court in which a similar surveillance law from the UK was judged to violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Coming just two weeks after the Swedish parliament voted on this issue, the similarities [to the British case] are obvious," said Crafoord.

He also rejected a common defence of the FRA law put forward by the Swedish government: that this law affects only international communications and therefore foreigners.

"The nature of the globalized communications market means that we never know the path our telephone calls make. And anyone using Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo knows for sure that their emails will cross Swedish borders as those companies' servers are located in the US," he said.

"We have had calls from a group like us in Belgium concerned over the impact this will have over citizens in Belgium. Two people in the UK, for example, could communicate with each other via Sweden. You never know."

The CFR is also concerned over the lack of rights that a Swedish citizen has to the information collected on them.

"They have no legal rights to make a complaint or to seek damages. You can't call the FRA and ask if you are being watched, they won't answer you. A clear breach of the European Convention," said Crafoord.

And while a lack of available case evidence complicates CFR's case before the European Court of Human Rights, Crafoord is confident the case will succeed.

He points out that the UK case (Liberty vs. the United Kingdom), which was brought by a consortium of human rights organizations, was won without any specific case evidence.

Crafoord fears that the spate of surveillance laws being drafted across Europe could lead to a re-localization of global communications.

"We have spoken to people in Finland and they don't want their private phone calls and emails monitored by the Swedish state," he said.


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