Swedish police ‘ready’ for increased powers of surveillance

A new law would allow Sweden's police to access criminal suspects' phones and devices and read encrypted information.

Swedish police 'ready' for increased powers of surveillance
Interior Minister Mikael Damberg. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT

Interior Minister Mikael Damberg presented the government's proposal on accessing data, which if passed by parliament would come into effect on March 1st next year.

“This is a very powerful means of coercion, which should only be used in very serious crimes,” he said.

Damberg said that the proposal had been requested by police, since many criminals use encryption when communicating.

This means that current methods including bugging are not sufficient, with police estimating that more than 90 percent of the digital communication they have tried to monitor has been encrypted.

“Police in Malmö believe that there has not been a single murder in Malmö over recent years which hasn't been preceded by encrypted communications between gang members,” Damberg said. 

The new proposal would give the police, as well as bodies including security police Säpo, the Economic Crime Authority, and customs, the power to install software or take other measures allowing them to access information in suspects' devices. And unlike current methods of communications interception, which only apply to sent messages, police would also be able to access files stored on the devices such as images and files.

Police would only be able to use these methods if the person in question was suspected of a crime with a minimum sentence of at least two years' jail time.

And in order to activate cameras or microphones in a suspects' computer or mobile phone, the person must be suspected of a crime with a four-year minimum sentence, the same requirement currently in place for bugging — using hidden microphones in a room or building.

All in all, police estimate they would use the new law to access data between 50 and 100 times each year.

The government and opposition first agreed to introduce the measure in 2015, following the terror attacks on Paris in November that year. The main reason it has taken four years to prepare the bill is the concerns raised about privacy, including by the Swedish Data Protection Authority, but Damberg said “the government believes that it is time for the police to get new powers”.

The government's budget proposal will allocate 120 million kronor to the four bodies that will be able to use secret data reading.

“They are ready and have been waiting for this law,” said Damberg.

The proposal has now been sent to the Council on Legislation and will then be submitted to parliament.

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