New plans are afoot in Sweden to allow not just the Swedish equivalent of the NSA (the Swedish Defence Radio Authority) and the police, but also customs officials and tax authorities(!!!) real time access to all email and phone calls, in a move that effectively wiretaps everybody warrantlessly all the time.
This may come as little surprise in a country that has long been known for its blasé attitude to individual privacy. Since 2009 with its FRA law, Sweden has allowed its ‘Swedish Defence Radio Authority to warrantlessly wiretap all telephone and Internet traffic that crosses Sweden’s borders’ (something which it has been suspected of doing long beforehand), allows anyone to access any citizens’ phone number, home address, salary, marital status and more using a publicly available government database, and has fully implemented the EU Data Retention Directive.
The recent move, originally reported in Sweden’s Ny Teknik magazine and followed up by many others, has nevertheless alarmed privacy advocates who point out that there is no legal oversight or any form checks and balances on such wide police (etc.) surveillance powers. The tactics used to achieve this are also alarming, as they involve the police demanding voluntary agreements from telecoms companies to hand over the data, thereby bypassing the entire legislative process.
In addition to access to all email and phone calls, the police are also demanding details of how telecoms bills are paid (including method used and bank account details), and mobile phone PUK codes. The only company which has refused to cooperate is Tele 2.
An interesting titbit of information is that the real-time tapping system planned uses a standard known as ITS27, which was developed by UK spying agency GHCQ.
As far as we understand it, VPN providers are not covered by the DRD or by national legislation and rules, which explains why Sweden remains a popular location for such services. However, how the new regime will affect this, we do not know.
One silver lining to the cloud for Swedes worried about these new developments is that Sweden is home to a thriving hackerspaces community, with hackerspaces in Stockholm (Sparvnästet), Göteborg (GHS), Malmö (Forskningsavd) and more, which run workshops helping the public understand how to use encryption and technology to reclaim their freedoms.