Digital Civil Rights in Europe

Article published in EDRi-gram 6.11
Lex Orwell, a law proposal for total surveillance, is urgently being pushed to a vote on 17 June 2008 by national security hawks in the peaceful Kingdom of Sweden. It will mandate the “NSA franchise”, the FRA, to turn its forest of parabola ears and world’s 5th largest super computer to listen to you – or rather what you do, say and share on the Internet – would an information package pass the Swedish borders.

FRA is the Swedish shorthand for The National Defence Radio Establishment. An institution very active during the cold war but without a clear task or purpose today since material from satellite traffic from military activities the Baltics isn’t particularly a la mode any more. To stay in business, FRA has therefore for years pursued a long term strategy to “improve raw material supply through partnerships” and to provide “on demand” intelligence to “support government authorities and state owned companies regarding current IT threats”.

That does not make FRA into an “NSA franchise”, does it? Well, a retired FRA Intelligence Officer was recently quoted in a report to the Swedish Journalist Fund for Education saying “Maybe FRA is a Swedish organisation, which in limited ways cooperate with foreign intelligence services. Or FRA is a part of an international surveillance group which to a limited extent cooperate with the Swedish authorities. The problem is that it is only FRA who knows.”

While national security and “state secret privileges” are complex matters of parliamentary checks and balances, the question is if Lex Orwell got it right. Nobody in the public sphere seems to think so. In answers from eight heavyweight institutions to the government’s hearing on Lex Orwell it is said it is “in breach of ECHR”, “like wire-tapping without a court order”, “general surveillance (…) of the content of telephone calls and messages”, “lacking in understanding (…) of privacy”, “massive wire-tapping”, “seriously flawed” and that “the State is acquiring the telecommunications traffic”. If this critique was not enough, former director of the FRA himself says FRA activity is in breach of European law. To the layman the set-up seems indistinguishable from what allegedly is happening in the USA where AT&T is accused of “violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications”.

Why should you care what is happening in Sweden? Well, it turns out that Sweden is one of the countries that has actively blocked the Commission’s third pillar proposal from 2005 for protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Professor Elspeth Guild writes in 2007: “A battery of measures have been announced in the First and Third Pillars (…) which are aimed at a substantial increase in surveillance of the citizen, his or her movements, statements, actions and activities. At the same time, the protection of the citizen from wrongful use of his or her personal data has lagged very substantially behind for instance, the continuing blockage of the Third Pillar Framework Decision on data protection.”. Statewatch told us already in 2006 that a “number of delegations (CH, CZ, DK, IE, SE and UK) has expressed doubts against the inclusion of data processed in a purely domestic context.”. Why?

At about the same time the Commission answers the parliamentary question E-1300/2007 whether Sweden has the right to conclude an exclusive agreement with the USA on research into terrorism and civilian security issues, saying would such research transfer personal data to third countries, it would be regulated by European law: “It is important to underline that exchange on either security research projects or on threat assessment does not necessarily imply exchange of personal data which are subject to the EU data protection rules. However, any such activities must fully respect the fundamental rights, privacy and civil liberties of individuals.”.

Now, what about “raw material supply through partnerships”?

It is said that only four (4) Swedish libertarians in the ruling coalition is needed to postpone Lex Orwell. Grab your phone and call them. International calls are still free, as in free speech.

FRA’s “Open Budget” for 2009-2011 (only in Swedish, 17.03.2008)

FRA, brief presentation in English

“Försvarets Radioanstalt – 2003-2004” by Martin Jönsson a report to “Journalistfonden för vidareutbildning” (only in Swedish, 27.02.2005)

Video recording from San Francisco Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Hepting v. AT&T (23.01.2008)

Collection of some Swedish institution’s opinions of Lex Orwell (only in Swedish, 3.06.2008)…

Interview with Anders Wik, former FRA director (only in Swedish, 31.05.2008)

General information related to EFF’s class action lawsuit against AT&T

European parliament’s legislative observatory page on DPFD

“Making the EU Citizens’ Agenda Work” by Elspeth Guild (9.02.2007)

Council document 13918/06 (13.10.2006)

Parliamentary question E-1300/2007 (1.06.2007)…

Article referred to in question E-1300/2007 (only in Swedish, 28.02.2007)…

(Contribution by Erik Josefsson)

Author :


  1. Well. This is the end. The end of freedom as we know it. I hope this comment passes through someone in Sweden, I hope their government reads this. I hope nothing like this ever comes about in Canada. But I know that with our government kissing the USA’s ass, I worry every day. This sucks.

Comments are closed.