Sweden’s Orwellian law
I had quite a few emails this week and comments from Swedes concerned about the FRA law, which I told you about in a recent post. Let’s note June 18 2008 as the day the Swedish people lost their freedom. Hundreds of years from now, when humans look back on our time, they’ll shake their heads and ask why we all seemed to be like the proverbial frog sitting in water, not noticing that it was heating up and about to boil us alive. This is what we’re doing: sitting in the water of surveillance and loss of civil liberties, not really noticing (or caring) that the water is about to boil with total erosion of everyday freedoms we take for granted.
Unfortunately, the Swedes have been boiled alive already. The FRA “Big Brother” bill was passed by Swedish lawmakers and will come into effect as law on January 1 2009. The Swedes call it Lex Orwell. The FRA law will allow the National Defence Radio Establishment (or FRA) to tap all cross-border Internet and telephone communications. This means any communications that pass in or out of Sweden are fair game for the FRA. The FRA is a private organisation – have a look at the Wikipedia entry for the FRA. It’s a signals intelligence agency with a long history of surveillance activities (including illegal wiretapping).
Here’s what the Swedes can look forward to:
- the FRA will NOT be required to obtain a court order to undertake surveillance of citizens’ communications.
- the FRA will be at liberty to snoop: read emails, eavesdrop on phone conversations, investigate what websites citizens are visiting, create sociograms to map out a citizen’s social network/linkages with friends
- the creation of a society in which innocent people will be fearful of what they can say and who might be listening in
- despite saying that only cross-border communications will be monitored, some internet servers are located abroad and the FRA one presumes would check all communications to establish whether they have “crossed the border”. Let’s be honest here: there are no clear borders when it comes to a global communications network. So if a Swedish citizen let’s say emails someone in Denmark, then the Danish citizen becomes trapped in the FRA dragnet surveillance. Sweden is a member of the EU and the EU values (to some extent) privacy – will the EU be happy to be dragged into Sweden’s attack on privacy? Already questions are being asked. Benoît Hamon, a member of the European Parliament from France, has a whole list of questions the Swedes might wish to answer. Go here to the European Parliament site to access Hamon’s question on the remit of the FRA.
- all telephone and internet operators will be required to attach a cable to the FRA’s supercomputer so that there will be a record of ALL emails, conversations, sms, faxes, internet searches conducted by Swedes.
- EVERY Swedish citizen will be caught in this general snooping – not just suspected terrorists or criminals
- 20 hubs will apparently be installed across Sweden by the FRA to help collect communications data for this massive snooping and data-mining project. The FRA is saying it will only monitor international traffic against 250,000 criteria and that it will filter out domestic stuff – yeah, right.
Apparently, the Swedish people did not go down without a fight, with protests happening and even Parliamentarians sending the Bill back for some last minute cosmetic surgery. But the Bill was passed with 143 votes in favour, 138 opposed and one parliamentarian abstaining.
The Swedish Government could do with a refresher course on Human Rights. Let’s turn to Article 12 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
They might also wish to remind themselves that the European Convention on Human Rights is built into its Constitution and the FRA Law goes beyond Article 8:
- Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
- There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
And Swedish politicians: ask yourselves this question – why do al-Queda and bin Laden send tapes to the media rather than give them a call? Because they are well aware that there is technology to trace their location. I’m sure they’ll now think, yeah let’s make an international call that will route through Sweden!!
If you read Swedish, here is an article (Sveriges eget Stasi) that compares the FRA law to activities carried out by the East German Stasi. If a Swedish ThinkingShift reader could translate and leave a comment about the comparisons, that would be great. And if you want to join the Swedish Facebook site protesting against Lex Orwell, go here (you’ll need to log-in) and here’s the protest site that anyone can join.
The FRA Law is Sweden’s very own Patriot Act except I think it leaves the Patriot Act dead in the dust with its intrusiveness and abuse of the basic human right to privacy. RIP Swedish democracy.