The War on Terrorism Brings Mass Surveillance — In Sweden
by Per Bylund
by Per Bylund
On June 18 a new law was passed in Sweden granting the national defense's civilian agency National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) the right to collect and analyze all communication data that in some way passes the borders of the Kingdom of Sweden. As a small country with extensive government and business collaboration with the other Nordic countries, most domestic communication such as Internet and phone services at some point passes the national border. The real effect of the law, which mandates that communication corporations deliver all their border-passing data directly to the FRA, is therefore mass surveillance of the whole Swedish populace.
The official lie offered as excuse for this horrid, uncivilized law is, like in all other countries, the threat of terrorism. It is unlikely anyone actually believes Sweden, an insignificant socialist country in the far north in moral, financial, and political decline, is on the terrorists' list of future targets, yet the sense of a common external threat of a faceless enemy seems to be as effective in Sweden as elsewhere.
The law, which officially is called proposition 2006/07:63 — An Adapted Military Intelligence, was passed under rather strange circumstances that only make sense in a political world. The law was originally formulated a few years ago by the former social democratic government and was then strongly criticized by the four so-called non-socialist parties in parliament. It was, however, not brought to the floor of parliament for enactment by the social democratic party (for fear of losing the election?), but by the succeeding non-socialist four-party coalition government after the social democratic party lost power in the general elections in 2006. Also, the new coalition government parties voted in favor of the law while the social democrats and their lackey parties The Left Party (formerly known as the communist party) and The Environment Party voted against it.
The debate leading up to the passing of the law in June 2008 just before the parliament's summer leave was quite hostile, especially after non-socialist bloggers started analyzing the effects of the law and bringing the truth to unknowing voters. The media kept their mouths shut for as long as possible, but as the bloggers wouldn't stop they managed to create enormous public pressure on politicians. The prime minister and his government responded by forcing "their" members of parliament to shut up and vote in accordance with their government's proposition even though it could be interpreted as conflicting with the parties' political platforms, promises, and programs.
With their political careers literally on the line, only a handful of politicians had the courage to criticize the proposition beforehand even though all of the discussions took place behind locked doors. All but one agreed on voting in favor of the bill or being absent from this particular vote, while only four votes of the 349 in parliament would have been enough to throw the bill out.
As is common practice in Sweden a new law is referred for consideration to major government agencies, big business corporations and labor unions for comments before brought to a vote. Basically any organization has the right to comment on a law and the government has to register the comments in a publicly accessible archive of comments, which is often used by the media. The comments on this law were very skeptical and a number of agencies and departments, among them the Swedish security police (SÄPO), claimed the law shouldn't be passed due to its total lack of restraints on FRA's surveillance activities as well as safeguards for people's personal integrity (!). Despite such devastating comments the bill was proposed to parliament by the non-socialist government while the media basically remained silent.
But a number of Swedish bloggers and free-lance writers, mainly libertarian or semi-libertarian such, continued online discussions on the "FRA Bill" (often referred to as "Lex Orwell") on blogs and elsewhere and during these discussions a number of interesting facts surfaced. The military agency FRA, which up to this point had only had the right to spy on radio communication crossing borders, with the main (but not explicitly stated) purpose to spy on Soviet Russia for the United States federal government, had already acted as a domestic surveillance agency despite it being illegal. The agency's actions were reported to the police, but the attorney general almost immediately dismissed the case despite obvious and severe crimes.
After the bill was passed a number of politicians in the non-socialist parties reacted to the public pressure in the way politicians often do: a number of them publicly stated their opposition to the bill they had recently voted in favor of and created "anti-FRA" political networks to bring the bill to the floor again and this time make sure it doesn't pass. And the social democrats, who were the ones writing the law in the first place, vowed to discard of the law if elected in the 2010 elections.
Despite these pathetic political attempts to benefit from the public awareness of the law, the discussions on blogs and in non-mainstream media go on. More strange circumstances and illegal acts by the agency are reported almost daily on numerous blogs while the main media corporations seem obviously afraid to touch this issue — despite the fact that this surveillance would severely affect news reporting as well as other businesses and individuals.
A list of 103 Swedish citizens that the FRA has previously reported to the security police was published by blogger Henrik Alexandersson (his English blog here) in an attempt to show that the FRA has not worked within the law historically and therefore will not do so in the future. Alexandersson, who is also the chairman of the libertarian activist network Frihetsfronten (Freedom Front) is now being investigated by the police for the crime of espionage (!) for publishing the list in conflict with freedom of speech laws. He was reported to the police by the director of the FRA, Ingvar Åkesson, and while the report includes a number of interesting pieces of information implying illegal activities by the FRA neither the media nor the police pretend to have noticed.
It seems despite the protests and the increasing public pressure the law will come into effect on October 1 this year. The law is however only one in a line of new laws calling for mass surveillance of ordinary people in Sweden and all over Europe. The European Union is calling for mass surveillance on the super-national level through national data retention laws; one such law, which calls for mandatory storage of all phone call, text message and email data (including people's whereabouts, etc., but not contents of call or message) in Sweden will be brought to the floor of the Swedish parliament during the fall session of this year.
In addition to these laws the so-called ACTA treaty, following the lead from the Department of Homeland Security but to counter "illegal file-sharing," was approved by the EU member states in a session on agriculture and fishing policy (!) on May 14 and is currently negotiated by the European Commission. The treaty grants border security to confiscate any digital media carried by the traveler and outlaws certain digital equipment as well as file-sharing networks (even if legal).
Most of these Orwellian laws are part of a new "anti-terrorism" initiative in the European Union, where a new union-level situation center in Brussels, called SitCen, is proposed in order to coordinate the EU countries' national security police, intelligence and surveillance efforts. With laws such as the "FRA Bill" and the proposed communications data storage law to be passed this fall it is easy to see that the European Union intends to be the first to establish a full-scale police state on the super-national level.
Decisions in the European Union are often made behind locked doors by EU-appointed officials to whom the national governments have "delegated" powers. In other words, it is impossible to know the true extent of the measures proposed and already enacted. Unpopular laws that rapidly increase the powers of member states are often pushed to the EU level in order to avoid public debate, and while national decisions are pushed to this higher level the EU officials in charge make sure the decisions benefit the political institutions on the super-national level as well.
This supposedly new EU initiative aiming "to tackle terrorism, organised crime, and legal and illegal immigration" is likely to be the result of such political tactics. Politicians in the member states don't dare face voters and the media with such far-reaching surveillance propositions and therefore hide behind locked doors in Brussels. The reason this issue, first and foremost the FRA Bill, is pushed hard by the Swedish government, and primarily by prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (a spineless crook of whom I have personal experience), has been conjectured by Henrik Alexandersson: Sweden under Reinfeldt will be "chairman state" in the EU in the last six months of 2009 and obviously the prime minister wants to look good in the eyes of other European politicians.
And how do you look good in the eyes of politicians? Through pushing your own serfs harder than anyone else pushes theirs.
August 16, 2008
Per Bylund [send him mail] is a Ph.D. student in economics at the University of Missouri and the founder of Anarchism.net. Visit his website www.PerBylund.com or his blog where he comments on this article and more.
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