Sweden adopts contentious eavesdropping plan
Sweden's Parliament narrowly approved a contentious law Wednesday that gives authorities sweeping powers to eavesdrop on all e-mail and telephone traffic that crosses the Nordic nation's borders.
The right-leaning government's slim majority helped secure 143-138 approval, despite strong opposition from left-leaning parties led by Social Democrats, the dpa reported.
Supporters argued the law - which takes effect in January - will provide a level of security against potential terrorists plotting attacks.
But critics have slammed it as an invasion of privacy and an infringement on civil liberties. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Parliament Wednesday, some handing out copies of George Orwell's famed "1984," dealing with a fictional police state.
The new powers will give Swedish defense officials the right to scan international phone calls, e-mails and faxes for sensitive keywords without a court order.
The companies Swedish telecom TeliaSonera AB and Google Inc. and have called the measure the most far-reaching eavesdropping plan in Europe, comparable to a U.S. government program.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush granted intelligence officers the power to monitor without court approval, international calls and e-mails between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas. The Protect America Act, passed last July, extended that authority, but it expired Feb. 15 and a replacement law is being debated.
Many European countries have gradually increased surveillance powers, including wiretapping and police searches, in a move to combat terror plots.
Currently, e-mail and phone surveillance in Sweden requires a court order if police suspect a crime, although the intelligence agency is allowed to spy on airborne signals, such as radio and satellite traffic.
The government rejects claims the law will give it unlimited powers to spy on its own citizens and maintains it will filter out domestic communications and is interested only in international traffic.
Four ruling coalition lawmakers forced additions to the bill, hoping the measures would protect individual privacy. But critics said the changes, which included monitoring by independent institutions, don't alter the fundamental problems with the law.
"This is just as absurd as before," said Per Strom of The New Welfare Foundation think tank. "It will still create a society characterized by self-censorship and anxiety."
The European Federation of Journalists argued that electronic monitoring of phone and e-mail communications contravenes international and European legal standards.