Swedes outraged over new e-mail snooping law
MALIN RISING Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 07/01/2008 01:00:20 PM MDT

STOCKHOLM, Sweden—Swedes may cherish openness and transparency, but not enough to accept a new law giving the government the right to snoop on all e-mails and phone calls crossing the country's borders.
Outrage over the statute has led to 2 million protests—filed by e-mail.

The online petition drive comes as other European Union countries consider granting authorities unprecedented spying powers over their own citizens amid fears of a mounting terror threat.

"This would have been totally unthinkable before Sept. 11," said Anne Ramberg, secretary-general of the Swedish Bar Association, calling for challenges to the law in Swedish and European courts.

Andreas Hellsten, a 37-year-old engineer, said the new law reminded him of something the dreaded East German police would have dreamed up had e-mail been around during the Cold War.

"It looks too much like the Stasi," he said. "It is surprising when Sweden passes a law like this."

While supporters say the legislation will help avert terrorist attacks by keeping tabs on suspect communications and financial transfers, opponents say the measures are just too intrusive.

Swedish telecommunications group TeliaSonera AB and U.S.-based Google Inc. have called the law passed June 18 the most far-reaching eavesdropping plan in Europe, comparable to snooping powers authorized in the United States.

The law narrowly passed Parliament in a 142-138 vote two weeks ago, despite

protests that included demonstrators handing out copies of George Orwell's novel "1984" about a fictional futuristic police state.
It gives Sweden's National Defense Radio Establishment, or FRA, the right to scan all international phone calls, e-mails and faxes without a court order as of January.

"Since 1766, we have had freedom of expression ... Can that be guaranteed if the FRA has the right to monitor, for example, all e-mails from abroad?" Thomas Mattsson, digital editor of the major Swedish newspaper Expressen, wrote in his blog.

The newspaper provides a link that allows readers of its Internet edition to file a protest to lawmakers—and so far more than 2 million Swedes have taken part in the campaign.

Under current law, e-mail and phone surveillance in Sweden require a court order in a suspected criminal case. Critics say the new law will encroach on privacy, jeopardize civil liberties and violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sweden's Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors defended the law in an online forum on the Expressen Web site Tuesday, saying data regarding individuals will be destroyed unless it is directly relevant to intelligence activities.

He also stressed the need to defend Sweden from terror attacks like those in New York, Madrid and London.

"The information is needed to evaluate, and meet, outside threats against Sweden," he said.

Even before the law was passed, TeliaSonera in April moved its e-mail servers to Finland because of the expected passage of the legislation.

Timo Lehtinen, of the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority, said he expected other telecommunications groups to rethink how they handle cross-border traffic, and expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the Swedish measures.

"The amount of traffic is so vast that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said. "If someone was planning some kind of terrorist activity they could make it extremely hard, or even impossible, to trace."

Other EU countries have enacted or are mulling stronger government snooping rules.

Britain has some of the most extensive surveillance powers in the world, allowing law enforcement, intelligence agencies and others to monitor telephone calls, e-mails or mail, with special permission from the Home Secretary.

The evidence is not admissible in court; Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants to change that with new laws allowing use of some wiretap evidence.

In Germany, Parliament is expected to pass a new bill later this year giving officials the right to monitor some criminal suspects' e-mails, but only with a court order, as is the case now for telephone wiretaps in serious crimes.

In Italy, which experts call one of the world's most wiretapped democracies, the debate is going the other way—now focusing on how to do more to protect privacy.

A Swedish opinion poll published last week indicated that 47 percent of Swedes opposed the new law, while 36 percent are for it; the rest were undecided. The margin of error was not available.

The protest could further erode already declining support for Sweden's center-right government, but is unlikely to cause a government crisis, since the coalition controls a solid parliamentary majority.

Niklas Wykman, chairman of the Conservative Party youth wing, told the Associated Press that he can't support his party on the law.

"We are against the general eavesdropping of all Swedish citizens, which paves the way for a surveillance society," he said.


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