E-mail, phone monitoring to be voted on by Swedish government

A bill that will allow local authorities to monitor all types of wired traffic, including e-mails, fax messages and telephone calls is about to be voted on by the Swedish government.

This week, the Swedish Parliamentary Committee on Defence approved the bill, which was published last year. The Committee also said more safeguards are needed, including additional details on when the data can be used, how it should be destroyed and who can access it.

On June 17 the bill will be debated and finally voted on in the Swedish Parliament.

Its detractors see the vote in the Parliament as a watershed moment.

“We are about to give up an important right, not to be monitored by the state unless there are suspicions of serious crimes,” said Maria Rankka, head of Swedish think thank Timbro.

One problem is that the lawmakers assume people in charge always have good intentions, and history has shown that is simply not the case, according to Rankka.

The bill — which has been dubbed “En anpassad forsvarsunderrattelseverksamhet”, or Adapted Military Intelligence Service, and nicknamed Lex Orwell — will let the Swedish Defence Radio Establishment listen in on wired traffic that passes Swedish borders, to protect against foreign threats. Authorities can turn to the Defence Radio Establishment when they need information.

The bill also regulates wireless monitoring already conducted by the Defence Radio Establishment.

The law is needed to keep up with technological advancements, according its proponents. This is the same reason U.K. authorities gave when the Home Office in May announced the need for new telecommunications legislation.

But that doesn’t hold up, according to Rankka.

“No one has shown this method to be effective, the criminals will always be one step ahead, and normal users will be caught in the middle,” she said.

Even though its still only a bill, it has already had repercussions. Last year TeliaSonera in Finland moved e-mail servers and 500,000 accounts from Sweden to Finland. The move was finalized in April this year.

“We received very strong recommendations from Finnish authorities to make the move, and decided to follow them. Users were also worried,” said Ahti Martikainen, communications manager at TeliaSonera Finland.

Carriers are generally against the bill, since it will require them to spend about 75 million Swedish kronor (Cdn$12.8 million), excluding maintenance costs, according to estimates from the Swedish Department of Defence.

It is still uncertain what will happen in the parliament. If all members of the opposition parties vote against the bill, only four members of the majority coalition need to turn it down for the bill to be rejected, according to Swedish Internet activist Oscar Swartz.

“Everybody knows that there are more than four members who believe the idea is foolish, but it remains to be seen if they will join the party line or not,” Swartz said.

If parliament approves the bill, the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2009. The Defence Radio Establishment will get access to the data from Oct. 1, according to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence.

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