Update 00:30 : fixed an erroneous statement about the “special court”.
All references below are in Swedish, so you may want to use Google Translate. There’s an enormous amount of information available in Swedish blogs and other media, but not so much translated material. Nikke Lindqvist has gathered links to some English resources, in particular a video published shortly after the recent demonstrations against FRA.
After a long fight, and countless scandals, the Swedish government is now presenting ideas for how the already approved wiretapping law (commonly called the “FRA law”, referring to the government agency which would do the work) can be “fixed” to meet certain criticism.
This package is being presented by some as a “new law”, but it seems naive at best to expect that the fundamental errors of design can be overcome like this. I’m not sure who should be more worried about their innocent activities – Swedes, or people abroad who (knowingly or not) risk having their traffic (e-mail, phone calls, …) intercepted by FRA (that could involve a lot of countries…).
Not too long ago, though, our Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt claimed that critics didn’t understand the law (see DN and SvD), and that “everybody will benefit if the debate stops”, and not to forget the – ahem – “differences of opinion” that he had with a member of his own party. And yet here we are, with last-minute proposals being presented again. To top it off, he now says that they have “learned to listen”. How can I possibly respond to such eloquence?
Abuse seems inevitable
There are nevertheless fundamental problems which I would suspect will remain, judging by how the government has operated so far. Let me point at some of them. Firstly, FRA or another government agency may get direct access to cable-bound communication, and we’re supposed to trust that they will follow rules or not abuse this (see Henrik Alexandersson’s blog entries: 1, 2). It is not yet clear how (if at all) this will change under the new proposal.
Secondly, FRA has its own regulations for what personal data can be stored (religious and political beliefs, among other things), and they seem rather interested in mapping social interactions on a massive scale. Olof Bjarnason has a nice visualization of the “sociogram”.
Finally, there’s nothing to stop a government from redefining the purpose of available tools – this may already be under way with millions of Swedish blood samples which were obtained solely for research. (See the editorial in Expressen.) I don’t think it hurts to be a little paranoid here…
The quicker, the better?
Apparently we are to believe that the “new law” meets all standards now due to the – yet to be detailed publicly – suggested changes, but since we have already discussed the “old law”, there’s no need to prolong the discussion, right? In other words: “the law is perfect, but we’ll make it better since you insist”.
Is this a responsible way to handle legislation? I found that a Member of Parliament, Alice Åström from the Left Party, summarized it quite well:
“Flera av de förbättringar som nu diskuteras går i rätt rikning, men oavsett vilka förbättringar som regeringspartierna kommer överens om kan vi inte ha en ordning där så här viktiga lagar förhandlas i sista minuten och bakom låsta dörrar. Detta trodde jag att vi var överens om över partigränserna efter integritetsutredningens slutbetänkande […] De borgerliga kritikerna av FRA-lagen sviker nu ännu en gång. Det enda rimliga förfarandet hade varit att tillsätta en parlamentarisk kommitté och börja om från början.”
“Several of the improvements which were discussed yesterday are a step in the right direction, but regardless of which improvements the governing parties agree on, we cannot have an order where such important laws are negotiated in the last minute and behind closed doors. I thought we had agreed over party lines about this after the final consideration of the Commission of Inquiry on Integrity […] The non-socialist critics of the FRA law now let us down once more. The only reasonable approach would have been to call for a parliamentary committee and start over.”
That said, it’s not yet clear what various critics will do, but it is worrying, especially considering that six of the people in question made a recent public commitment to tear up the law and start from scratch.
Politicians, wake up!
The size of this mess is increasing by the day, and there’s a significant risk that politicians will once again vote for a law which they don’t understand – or worse, vote against their beliefs. One difference this time is that they can’t claim it will be “fixed later” (not that there was much room for that in June, but some did anyhow after voting for it).
There are also talks about a “special court” which would grant permissions for wiretapping
, supposedly on a case-by-case basis; it’s still unclear what is meant more specifically, a wording that has been used is “trafikstråk” – which I guess translates to something like “communication stream”. Considering the timing of this proposal, I’d say one has to love this level of creativity… Present the whole proposal first if you please, then we’ll talk.
Then again, why don’t we rewrite the whole Swedish constitution while we’re at it? One week should be enough time to review it… Then we wait a few years, and rubber-stamp the changes. Any takers?
I hope that enough politicians will wake up and put things into perspective, but if the Social Democrats are willing to deal this time, we can expect that the law is put into force, with more or less cosmetic changes. We’ll find out soon enough if anyone will keep their word…