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Sweden passes electronic surveillance law; all emails, SMS, calls to be tapped

Ready to be tapped: Agneta Lindblom Hulthén, Swedish Union of Journalists' Chair, at a rally against the new Swedish law allowing the state to tap Internet and phone communication.Photo: Daniel Wiklander/IFJ

Swedish Parliament passed Wednesday evening a controversial bill allowing the government to monitor all SMS, email and other data traffic crossing Swedish borders with 143 in favour, 138 opposed and one parliamentarian abstaining.

Faced with powerful criticism from the opposition, international experts, and from within its own ranks, the government sent the bill back to a parliamentary committee for further preparation to protect personal integrity Wednesday morning.

The International Federation of Journalists and its European group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) expressed "incredulity and dismay" following the vote in favour of the bill allowing all international emails and phone calls to be monitored in the name of national security.

The new law, set to take effect on January 1, 2009, will enable the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) to tap all cross-border Internet and telephone communication.

"It is astonishing that one of Europe's oldest democracies where model standards of press freedom have been taken for granted has dealt such a blow to civil liberties," said IFJ/EFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "It is further confirmation that in the age of security, anonymity and privacy in private communications are all but dead and that journalists face new battles to protect their sources of information."

The vote, one of the most divisive in Sweden in recent years, had initially been scheduled for early Wednesday but was postponed after more than one-third of MPs voted to send the bill back to parliament's defence committee "for further preparation." After the committee required that the centre-right government safeguard individual rights further in an annex to the law to be voted on in the autumn, the bill narrowly passed.

"Throughout journalism there will be incredulity and dismay at this decision," said White. "No journalist anywhere in Europe can now be certain that their work is not subject to official surveillance, that their telephones are not being tapped and that they can with any confidence protect their sources."

"By introducing these new measures, the Swedish government is following the examples set by governments ranging from China and Saudi Arabia to the US government's highly criticised eavesdropping programme," said Peter Fleischer of Google, according to a BBC News report.

The EFJ affiliate in Sweden, the Swedish Journalists Association had heavily campaigned against the proposal as an attack on civil liberties that would create a "big brother" state. The Swedish union demanded Thursday evening the creation of a "truth commission" to investigate how the Swedish authorities have already kept under surveillance private phone calls and emails, which is currently illegal under Swedish law.

Date posted: June 20, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 1053