Sweden's Version Of The NSA Almost Indistinguishable From The 'Original'

from the breaks-laws,-grabs-data,-blames-terrorism dept

All the news that’s rolled in over the past few weeks has converted former suspicions into a truism: intelligence agencies break laws. It’s not just the NSA blowing past legal boundaries in its quest for more data. The GCHQ has severely damaged its own reputation over the past few weeks and now it appears Sweden’s answer to the NSA, the FRA, has broken a few laws of its own.

The State Inspection for Defense Intelligence Operations (Statens inspektion för försvarsunderrättelseverksamhet – Siun) has as recently as May criticized the FRA for its handling of personal information, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN) revealed after an overview of the inspection’s regulatory records.

As many of the details remain secret, the entire picture is unclear, but the FRA has made use of a loophole in the law, DN reported, by providing large amounts of raw data from telephone and internet records in what it refers to as “technical development work”.

It’s all sounds so familiar. Raw data. Legal loopholes. Secret details. Oversight that does too little, far too late. But maybe the FRA can’t be blamed entirely for its transgressions. It’s not like it came up with these ideas on its own.

Last week, British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell revealed Sweden’s involvement as one of the United States’ most important partners in efforts to monitor internet communications across the globe.

“A new organization has joined the “Five Eyes” and is seen as the largest cooperating partner to [the UK’s] GCHQ outside the English-speaking countries – and that is Sweden,” Campbell told the European Parliament committee, referring to the colloquial term used to refer to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

Specifically, he pointed to the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets radioanstalt, FRA), explaining that the agency helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) and British GCHQ gain access to signals intelligence carried through fibre optic cables at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

Good old peer pressure. An older boy told the FRA to do it. Given the usual state of political infighting, it’s almost refreshing to see this sort of international cooperation. It just goes to show that if our nations’ intelligence agencies work together, there’s no law they can’t break!

As in the US, these revelations have been greeted with a mixture of surprise and anger by legislators.

“It’s very serious matter if Sweden is indeed involved in American surveillance programmes,” Green Party IT policy spokeswoman Maria Ferm told The Local…

“It’s deeply troubling if Sweden is participating in surveillance operations that are as extensive as those of the United States and that attempt to circumvent national laws.”

Oh, the FRA did much more than simply participate. It invited two foreign agencies to “tap” into its undersea cables.

Sweden’s Democracy Minister, Birgitta Ohlsson of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), was also alarmed by the revelations.

“I absolutely think this is not good. I’ve also been engaged in issues related to personal privacy and transparency in Sweden and I think in all countries, including Sweden, the EU, and the United States…that things have gone too far,” she said during an interview with Sveriges Television (SVT).

Also familiar: politicians hearing details of surveillance programs not from their own government but from leaks and investigative reporters. And, like the US, the defenders of these illegal activities are quick to point out that national security is more important than following laws or respecting citizens’ rights.

In a statement, Defence Minister Karin Enström of the Moderate Party said Sweden’s intelligence exchange with other countries is “critical for our security” with rules that “balance security and privacy interests”.

“Intelligence operations occur within a framework with clear legislation, with strict controls, and under parliamentary oversight,” the statement read.

Oh, Karin. You need some new talking points. It almost sounds like the NSA ran off a few copies of its canned rebuttals while it was waiting for the taps to be installed.

“Clear legislation?” Doubtful, unless you mean “clear” to those few members of the inner sanctum. Those legislators on the outside seem rather convinced laws have been broken. “Controls?” “Oversight?” Again, ask these other politicians. They seem genuinely surprised by the news, which would suggest there’s not a whole lot of either “control” or “oversight” in play.

These legislators want answers and actual transparency, not the fake “transparency” that releases a couple of heavily-redacted documents and calls it a day. Not the fake “conversation” about security and privacy that results in a small cadre of insiders who report to the head of the intelligence community. But if the defenders are already trotting out reasonable facsimiles of the NSA’s narrative, it’s hard to believe this shock and anger will change anything.

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Comments on “Sweden's Version Of The NSA Almost Indistinguishable From The 'Original'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I always suspected Sweden being involved with the Five Eyes. I also suspect France and Germany’s involvement.

France headquarters INTERPOL. We’ve already heard about Germany sharing massive amounts of intelligence information with the NSA.

I suspect there’s probably more countries involved. Such as Mexico, Panama and Columbia.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I suspect there’s probably more countries involved. Such as Mexico, Panama and Columbia.

That would be bad, as in “catastrophically bad”.

Mexico’s government and drug cartels are now the same organization run by the same people. So any intelligence shared with any government official in Mexico is also being shared with the drug lords — who, as you may have noticed, are ruthlessly violent.

The situation isn’t much better in Panama or Colombia. Bribery, blackmail and all forms of corruption flourish there as well.

So as bad as it is to consider that intelligence agency employees in Sweden have their hands on private information, it would be MUCH worse for that to be happening in Latin America.

Martin says:

It’s interesting to note how disingenuous FRA is about their work. Basically they have two legal ways to gather data:
1) they can search for certain terms in any electronic traffic that crosses the borders after having received approval for those search terms from a secret court
2) they can collect data themselves if this is necessary for the development of their technical methods.

In the interview the vice president of the FRA said that their possibility to share data with other countries is not greater in the second case than it is in the first. However, that is quite misleading since data of the second kind could potentially be much more extensive since it’s not narrowed down by any search terms. Furthermore, once data is “exported” to other nations it’s unclear what data protection rules – if any – apply.

The politicians who supported this law tried to sell it to the public as a way for Sweden to gain more independent capabilities to track foreign matters and international terrorism. I never bought that. My suspicion all along has been that this is just a way for Sweden to buy national defense/security advantages by trading data with other nations. Now, this is not inherently wrong (although I’d personally say it’s not worth it), but it’s wrong not to have an honest public debate about the purpose of the mass surveillance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Good coverage, but there is one rather critical detail missing.

These so called unexpected loopholes in the law is not by any means real news. When these laws was created the Swedish Pirate Party and the tech sector in Sweden recognized these laws was constructed to allow NSA like behavior.

There was widespread protests on the streets and people attending the parliment session to raise concerns. The government failed to get the law past the swedish parliment on the first attempt due to brave paraliment member refusing to vote as the mainstream parties required.

The government then started a wide spread desinformation campaign where literally lied about the details of the new law. Dagens Nyheter that is now quoted as part of the “discovery” was very much part of this and published a number of missleading articles, and refused counter articles by opposition.

In the end the law was voted as accepted after welldocumented bullying of parliment members. I personally attended the parliment when the vote happened and saw members of the parliment crying. These people has with few exceptions left the political scene afterwards.

Most of these Swedish politicians that now are so concerned about the current situation is the very same people who was behind forcing the law through parliment despite the known weaknesses.

The only things that the Pirate Party was wrong about was that supervision of FRA has been more effective than we expected. There have actually documented real trangressions where we expected no real supervision…not that this helps much since these reports result in nothing. FRA keep breaking the law and there are no means to sanction them for this.

Jasmine Charter (user link) says:

How about this...

Every Intelligence Agency gets audited by an independent agency that reports to Congress – NOT anyone in the executive branch.

Anyone in any intelligence agency found to have violated the law and someone’s Constitutional rights is charged with treason on the agencies recommendation. If the justice department fails to prosecute, they must submit reasons why to the oversight committee. The committee then votes on whether or not it is a legitimate reason and if not, all monies to the Justice department are suspended until they do their job.

That would provide some accountability and a good reason for intelligence officials to NOT abuse the system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copying is OK for governments but not for the people

It works by a two tiered justice system where corporations and politicians operate in absolute immunity and regular citizens are subjected to harsh penalties if they were to act in ways similar to “their” leaders. You will be hard pressed to find any politicians that actually think they are elected representatives of the people rather than rulers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copying is OK for governments but not for the people

Whatever you think about copyright, copyright and mass surveillance are obviously two different things. Copyright is meant to stimulate our culture (although it in many cases does the reverse). Privacy right are among other things meant to uphold a personal sphere that makes it possible for individuals to develop in their own way, and to set up a good power balance between the public and the government.

To blindly stare at the copying aspect while ignoring all other aspects doesn’t make for a very intelligent discussion. It’s a bit like saying that punching someone in the face and heart surgery are similar since they both involve the rearrangment of atoms – it’s the wrong abstraction level and the wrong focus.

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