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Sweden Admits Tapping Citizens' Phones for Decades 273

paulraps writes "Sweden is close to implementing new surveillance legislation that will include the monitoring of emails, telephone calls and keyword searches using advanced pattern analysis. The objective is to detect 'threats such as terrorism, IT attacks or the spread of weapons of mass destruction' but the proposals have divided the country. In a misguided attempt to put people at ease, the government admitted that Sweden has been tapping its citizens' phones for decades anyway."
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Sweden Admits Tapping Citizens' Phones for Decades

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  • Yes ... and? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:09PM (#18292358)
    The software to encrypt your information is free. If you don't use it you have to assume that people are reading your information...

    • Re:Yes ... and? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mastershake_phd ( 1050150 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:11PM (#18292392) Homepage
      The software to encrypt your information is free. If you don't use it you have to assume that people are reading your information...

      Yes, but using such software can bring unwanted attention. Especially if the government is looking for stuff like that as I am sure the Swedish government is.
      • Heads up (Score:5, Informative)

        by SgtChaireBourne ( 457691 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:41PM (#18292800) Homepage

        Well, Phill Zimmerman [philzimmermann.com] not only gave a heads up in 1991, he gave to the tools to use to do something about it. According to even a slow beast as the European Parliament, you should already be encrypting your e-mail [europa.eu]. It's warning is from 2001, read and weep:

        29. Urges the Commission and Member States to devise appropriate measures to promote, develop and manufacture European encryption technology and software and above all to support projects aimed at developing user-friendly open-source encryption software;
        30. Calls on the Commission and Member States to promote software projects whose source text is made public (open-source software), as this is the only way of guaranteeing that no backdoors are built into programmes;
        31. Calls on the Commission to lay down a standard for the level of security of e-mail software packages, placing those packages whose source code has not been made public in the "least reliable" category;
        32. Calls on the European institutions and the public administrations of the Member States systematically to encrypt e-mails, so that ultimately encryption becomes the norm;
        33. Calls on the Community institutions and the public administrations of the Member States to provide training for their staff and make their staff familiar with new encryption technologies and techniques by means of the necessary practical training and courses;
        — from European Parliament resolution on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system) (2001/2098(INI)) [europa.eu]
    • by eck011219 ( 851729 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:11PM (#18292402)
      Why encrypt it? Everyone is speaking Swedish -- who can understand THAT anyway?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:16PM (#18292474)
      Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yër?
      See the løveli lakes
      The wøndërful telephøne system
      And mäni interesting furry animals
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Seumas ( 6865 )
      Of course, encrypting your email is one thing. Encrypting your voice communications is another. And all manner of encryption is extremely difficult when it gets to the point of making sure the recipients and senders who are not you will be able to encrypt and decrypt (becuase I would say 99% of people do not do this)..

      But the greater problem is that using encryption automatically makes you a person of interest. No kidding, there have been incidents in America where simply using encryption is, in the eyes of
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by El Torico ( 732160 ) *

        I'm almost 30. I'm too old to waste the rest of my life giving a fuck. I'm sorry to say it, but I'm pretty much ready to cave in to the inevitable.

        That, ladies and gentlemen, is a classic example of why /. can never be taken seriously as a forum for political discourse.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Seumas ( 6865 )
          Yes, because pragmatism and rational thought are outweighed by an overly emotional supposedly activist crowd that themselves probably couldn't be motivated to walk to the refrigerator, much less make any real efforts toward preserving or changing anything of consequence.

          As long as the stupidest, most ignorant, least knowledgeable and most impressionable among us outweigh the rest and are allowed an equal weight in voting and directing this country, we will never be able to change anything (or preserve the t
          • by RESPAWN ( 153636 )
            Wait, wait, wait. Is there beer in that fridge?

            Seriously, you make a very eloquent point, but surely there has to be some way that we can motivate the masses and the median level of idiocy? Maybe I'm too young, but I still believe in this country and its people. I most definitely think we have the capacity for greatness still in us. It's just all a matter of finding that magic motivation. I have to admit that I have no idea what it could be, but I believe that it has to be there somewhere.

            Maybe I'm jus
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Seumas ( 6865 )
              You can't even motivate people to pursue an education and it's essentially given to them for free from childhood. It's a beast to motivate them to read or truly follow current events beyond whatever the latest USA Today "news-for-the-illiterate" copy brings them. Most couldn't recite the first ten Constitutional amendments (the Bill of Rights) and couldn't even tell you what habeas corpus is. The average American believes we must sacrifice our liberties for security and probably couldn't name the last six
      • Encrypting your voice communications is another. And all manner of encryption is extremely difficult when it gets to the point of making sure the recipients and senders who are not you will be able to encrypt and decrypt (becuase I would say 99% of people do not do this)..
        http://www.cryptophone.de/ [cryptophone.de]
  • strange (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mastershake_phd ( 1050150 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:09PM (#18292362) Homepage
    Strange country they got there. On one hand they have the Pirate Bay, wich runs with impunity, on the other this.
    • by dr_dank ( 472072 )
      If your nation had the Swedish Bikini Team, you'd find a way to keep tabs on them too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jugalator ( 259273 )
      "This" is for terrorism surveillance (as always), and at least they thing Pirate Bay is a lesser issue than terrorism. Of course, with Sweden not using to have even terrorist threats, I guess it's a fair question to ask if this is not an even more overzealous decision than that of the USA and its implementation of e.g. the PATRIOT Act.
    • Sweden has a "proud" tradition of big-brotherism.

      Bewteen 1936 and 1978 we had the IB (information bureau, it held a few other names through it's existence but IB is the one most used to refer to them), a vast network of informers in every major workplace in Sweden. When they were exposed to the world in the seventies, a law was made saying that the state cannot register the political opinions of the citizens. This was obviously just window dressing, and the SÄPO (Security police) essentially continued
    • by Phil-14 ( 1277 )
      Nothing strange about it at all. Take (for instance) China, which also has massive piracy of software, music, and movies, but is also kind of restrictive in some things.

      Maybe pirated bad anime fandubs are just the new opiate of the masses?
  • thelocal.se isn't responding. Anybody got a mirror?
  • Hooray (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alx5000 ( 896642 ) <{ten.0005xla} {ta} {0005xla}> on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:09PM (#18292374) Homepage
    Cause I'd be sooooooo relaxed if my Government tries to pass a law in favour of torture, but only if they admit they've been doing it for ages.

    It's like a 7-mile-wide billboard shouting "SORRY, WE HAVE NO FUCKING SHAME"...
    • I'm just confused why they would tell anybody about the new bill in the first place? If they've already been tapping phones without telling the public, who says they couldn't do any other kind of spying without telling the public.

      It's not a slippery slope if you're already at the bottom of the hill...
  • Snicker (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:10PM (#18292378)
    Guy : Honey, I think we should start seeing other people
    Gal : I can't believe you are saying that, I thought our relationship was strong
    Guy : I don't know why you're so upset, I've been seeing others for 10 years now, hasn't bothered you yet
    Gal : You've been doing WHAT?!>
    Guy : Oh, uh, I mean, well, did I say 10years, I meant .. SMACK
  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:12PM (#18292414) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, well it's not like Sweden has a document like the US Constitution that prot....ect......s.... its um, citizens from....... Er..... Nevermind.


    • by db32 ( 862117 )
      It would seem you missed the recent story about the new electronic info gathering the feds are doing. Prepare to be contacted soon.
    • Sweden is a signatory to a lot of human rights treaties, both European and international. The right to privacy is part of the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights.
  • by HomelessInLaJolla ( 1026842 ) * <lajollahomeless@hotmail.com> on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:17PM (#18292482) Homepage Journal

    The Centre Party leader claims that defence minister Mikael Odenberg's proposed legislation would merely codify practices that have already been in operation for decades

    "Sweden has always listened in as a means of ensuring that we have had the information necessary to protect national security. I don't think that is a secret," said Olofsson at a press conference on Friday.

    "All I know is that we do not currently have any surveillance on the cable network. For six decades we had a surveillance system with no regulation and absolutely no protection for private individuals. I think that is forgotten sometimes in this discussion," said Odenberg.
    The US Federal Government called--it seems that Sweden is infringing on their patent for "Application of the Kansas City Shuffle to a Population of Citizens to Effect Domestic Surveillance Under the Auspices of Preventing Terrorism for the Purpose of Perpetuating Financial Debt"
    • by Quantam ( 870027 )
      The US Federal Government called--it seems that Sweden is infringing on their patent for "Application of the Kansas City Shuffle to a Population of Citizens to Effect Domestic Surveillance Under the Auspices of Preventing Terrorism for the Purpose of Perpetuating Financial Debt"

      Patent revoked. Clearly Sweden has prior art on this.
    • This is was clearly prompted by the US government many years ago as revenge for giving us ABBA.
  • Too bad.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kisil ( 900936 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:17PM (#18292492)
    .. that data mining doesn't work [schneier.com].
  • I can't read the article, so I put this to Slashdotters who can: could this be another bad writeup? I mean, the government could be referring to wiretaps that occurred with valid due-process. I'm not sure about due-process in Sweden, but I'm assuming they have something analogous to warrants there. Or is it good-old US-style warrant-less wiretapping?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by nx ( 194271 )
      This is not in reference to wiretaps, which the police may use with a warrant, but an all pervasive monitoring of all traffic passing Sweden's national borders (talk about archaic perspectives). The surveillance in question is not performed by the police, but by FRA; military intelligence.
    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      Please don't forget that, for all purpose, Sweden has been a one-party political system for many decades.
      The Social Democratic Party was omnipresent and had virtual carte-blanche in their actions.
      Only recently there is a movement to come clear about what in other countries would have been considered abuse of the system by the political party in power.
  • Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vr0p ( 1073844 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:21PM (#18292536)
    It's not like Sweden is alone. UK + NA have had http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON [wikipedia.org] for quite a while.
  • Hee hee hee (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:21PM (#18292538) Journal
    So all the people who regularly point out how much "better" a society Sweden is than the US, either have to:
    - entirely backtrack
    - agree that domestic surveillance really ISN'T that big a deal
    - just be hypocrites.

    (grabs some popcorn)
    OK, let's start discussing!
    • Re:Hee hee hee (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rycross ( 836649 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:27PM (#18292586)
      Option four: Be just as outraged at the Swedish government's wiretapping.

      There's no need for there to be a logical inconsistency.
      • Well, but if you are outraged now that you know, that doesn't change the fact that during the period of the previous statement of "Sweden is better because of the mooses!" this WAS going on in Sweden. So, either it wasn't important that it was going on (in other words, Sweden wasn't fascist even though they did it), or it is important and the citizens of Sweden were being personally affected in some way (that was so important that they couldn't tell).

        • by Qzukk ( 229616 )
          So, either it wasn't important that it was going on (in other words, Sweden wasn't fascist even though they did it)

          Fascist governments can fail too. In other words, Sweden might have done this in hopes of becoming a fascist government but failed to take the step from "listening to everyone" to "arresting undesirables and claiming that we heard them plot against the government".

          It is of interest to note that you don't actually have to "listen to everyone" to make the latter claim, if you publicly claim that
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Interesting indeed. You are advocating that someone cannot be wronged unless they can tell they are being wronged. That would make it perfectly legal to cheat children or the retarded, as long as they didn't realize what was happening. I mean, it's their fault for that, right?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by stratjakt ( 596332 )
      No, somehow the taps in other countries are the US's fault. Watch people start saying it's because the US made them do it.

      Everything wrong in the world has to be the fault of the US, or else you cant expect the US to do all the work in fixing the problems.

      Ikea sucks
    • "So all the people who regularly point out...."

      What people. Where.
    • by Firehed ( 942385 )
      You can be better and still suck. I hear news like this and get feelings of disgust, but I'd still rather live in Sweden than here in the USA. I'm going to assume you're American (like myself) from your comment. Think of it this way: presidential elections. You can like one guy better but still hate them both. I'm not especially fond of anyone who's looking like a contender for the final race right now, but I'd still much prefer some to others.

      I could also point out that Sweden is at least sort of hone
      • The anti-American (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Loundry ( 4143 )
        You can be better and still suck. I hear news like this and get feelings of disgust, but I'd still rather live in Sweden than here in the USA.

        And how much would Sweden have to suck before it stars being worse than the USA? The exercise goes like this: Start taking away (alleged) Swedish liberties one by one, and raise your hand when the liberty removed breaches the threshold and causes living in the USA to be preferable to Sweden.

        If you run that exersie through your mind and discover that you still feel di
    • Re:Hee hee hee (Score:5, Insightful)

      by daigu ( 111684 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @09:28PM (#18296468) Journal
      Your post is a logical fallacy. Easy enough to demonstrate that there is at least a fourth option - defining "better" so it includes a wide variety of societial measures, which is what is typically done when one is comparing countries. While I wait for your next post that will provide a comparison of the relative levels of domestic surveillance in Sweden as compared to the United States, I'll provide some of the more traditional metrics that are used to make country comparisons.

                                          Sweden           U.S
      Infant mortality rate               2.76/1,000       6.43/1,000
      HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate   .1%              .6%
      Income distribution - Gini index    25               45
      Inflation rate                      1.4%             2.5%
      Public Debt                         46.4% of GDP     64.7% of GDP
      Life expectancy at birth            80.51 years      77.85 years

      Source: CIA Factbook

      The CIA Factbook isn't a particularly controversial source, and I can think of others ranging from the UNICEF to the UN.

      I know it is fun to pretend that people you don't agree with are in a logically inconsistent position. But, it actually reflects poorly on you when you pretend it is the case when it isn't. 
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by pehrs ( 690959 )
      You forgot one alternative:
      -Blame the US for starting this development.

      Frankly, if it wasn't for the current US goverment and their unhealthy obsession with terror we would not have this development in Europe.
  • Not Surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by segedunum ( 883035 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:25PM (#18292574)
    I live in the UK, and we are the surveillance capital of the world. The fact that phones have been tapped for years in other countries as well doesn't surprise me at all.

    With the internet I now have the option of securing my communications if I so wish, which isn't really a problem for surveillance at all for legitimate purposes, but this quite clearly scares the security services here and elsewhere because they want to feel like they're in control. Crucially, the security services in many countries now have to give themselves a reason for being, wasting taxpayers money and continuing the old boy's network - which is where the exagerrated levels of terrorism and foreign threats come from. We've had a ton of these arguments in the UK, and none of them stand up to scrutiny or evidence. Apparently, we're facing threats that are even graver than anything seen in World War 2, and yes there are terrorist groups out there in the world, but this is quite obviously ludicrous to any sane person.

    However, I don't think that telling citizens that their phones have been unknowingly tapped for decades anyway, so there's nothing to worry about, is exactly the wisest of moves. These security services organisations are so out of their depth now it isn't even funny, especially regarding internet communications. If they wanted to keep themselves in a job then they should have worked harder to keep Communism and the Soviet Union intact ;-). The fall of the Soviet Union, as it once was, has always puzzled me in that I wonder whether many security services organisations could actually see what was coming.
  • Not really (Score:5, Informative)

    by russint ( 793669 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:28PM (#18292600) Homepage
    FRA [www.fra.se] has always been listening to "international" traffic (radio, satellite etc), not cable/telephone. Most countries do that. Olofsson doesn't really know what she is talking about.
    • by Xemu ( 50595 )
      You say FRA has always been listening to "international" traffic (radio, satellite etc), not cable/telephone.

      But reading the article, Per Kjellnäs, former head of FRA, says that his organization did in fact listen in on telecommunications, but never over the cable network.

      FRA are free to legally eavesdrop on every cellphone call as it is not over cable, as well as every cable call that is transmitted using a radio link somewhere before reaching the other subscriber. That is, most telephone calls withi
  • by Caspian ( 99221 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:38PM (#18292734)
    Everyone knows what they've been saying on the phone: endless variants on "B0rk b0rk b0rk!"
  • by castrox ( 630511 ) <stefanNO@SPAMverzel.se> on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:39PM (#18292764)
    I'm a Swede and judging from the major news sources FRA (Military radio surveillance agency, basically) has only been allowed to monitor radio based sources (primarily the Russians) and not e.g. cable channels. They have certainly not been sanctioned to wiretap phones which is a police matter and requires a warrant. This is what they want to do, but there's been a massive uproar against this, since they say they want to "only" surveill international communications and technically they cannot distinguish between national and international communications (IP-traffic).

    In fact, they don't wish to at all guarantee that people who've been wiretapped should know about it afterwards - in other words, this is a very sloppy proposal and they are receiving a lot of critisism for it.

    They way they say that "this has been going on for ages and we are now just passing a law for it" is nothing but BS, which purpose is to make the matter seem less drastic.

    Most likely, the law will be delayed for a year, debated and more restrictions as to what they may surveill be specified. Expect to see protests here any day soon. :-)
    • by init100 ( 915886 )

      They way they say that "this has been going on for ages and we are now just passing a law for it" is nothing but BS, which purpose is to make the matter seem less drastic.

      This reminds me about the rejected EU software patent proposal. The same argument was used there, probably with the same motive.

  • by boyfaceddog ( 788041 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:44PM (#18292830) Journal
    In my country we have a constitution that protects our rights from invasion by the government. I could say wahtever I wanted to about President Bush and suffer no consequences at all.

    I for one would never say anything bad about President Bush though, even though I know the FBI/CIA/Whaterver aren't listening to me. That would just be silly.
  • by ladybugfi ( 110420 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:54PM (#18292984)
    For example 90% of internet traffic from Finland to international destinations goes through Sweden. Which means that Swedes may be able to spy on Finnish traffic as well.

    This causes problems because in Finland your mailbox (and of course e-mail traveling to it) is protected by legislation to be your private space. For example your employer has no right to go and look at its contents without your permission even if they own the equipment and the disk space and it contains valuable company information. Of course there are provisions for accessing your e-mail if you happen to be run over by a truck, but in that case the employer has to document when the mailbox was opened, who were present, what was read/removed etc. This applies to e-mail logs to some extent as well.

    Sooooo, if you are a company offering e-mail to your employees in Finland but hosting the e-mail servers in Sweden, this Swedish initiative may mean that you are in violation of Finnish laws because outsiders can get access to the mail traffic. The Finnish authorities have taken the view that if this becomes reality, the e-mail servers for Finns need to be moved to Finland.

    Long live Nordic co-operation!
  • The objective is to detect 'threats such as terrorism, IT attacks or the spread of weapons of mass destruction'

    IT Attacks?

  • by Rakishi ( 759894 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @04:17PM (#18293316)
    I've had one of the more famous professors in data mining directly tell us how stupid it is to try and find "terrorism" in these sorts of data sets. There are too few training data points (actual terrorists) and too much data with a lot of variability. In essence false positives alone would make it all worthless. Now of course some people in the field disagree but those are also usually the ones who stand to make a pretty penny if governments do go this route.

    So soon we may no longer have many freedoms but at least I'll have guaranteed employment.
  • I think wiretapping is pretty much done by all police forces, without any restrictions. The whole legal process for getting wiretaps has to do with using information collected during a wiretap as evidence in court. But if the police tap phones and they don't plan to make the evidence collected known outside their small internal group, no one will ever be the wiser. It is like requiring people to have a warrant in order to have oral sex: yeah, good luck enforcing that!

    For example, if the police want to dete
  • Swedish Constitution (Score:5, Informative)

    by SKorvus ( 685199 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @04:26PM (#18293420) Homepage
    Swedish Constitution [riksdagen.se]
    2. Fundamental Rights and Freedoms [riksdagen.se]

    Art. 6. Every citizen shall be protected in his relations with the public institutions against any physical violation also in cases other than cases under Articles 4 and 5. He shall likewise be protected against body searches, house searches and other such invasions of privacy, against examination of mail or other confidential correspondence, and against eavesdropping and the recording of telephone conversations or other confidential communications.
    • by TERdON ( 862570 )
      you should probably read article 12 as well, there are exceptions to article 6. It still isn't obvious to me if they apply, though.
  • by DigitAl56K ( 805623 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @04:32PM (#18293492)
    .. the target of terrorist attacks or under threat from WMD's?
  • At the risk of sounding like the cliche ego-centric, globally ignorant American... Is there anybody trying to blow up Sweden? (No, seriously - if there are any Swedes out there who know, please speak up.)

    Things are pretty rough if a country that doesn't even suffer from the /illusion/ of terrorist threat* can go to such lengths to violate their people's privacy in the name of security. Makes one think that maybe it's a part of human nature to overreact, or something.

    Random statistics from the interne

  • Since the dawn of telecommunications (e.g., the telegraph) governments have been monitoring communications and almost always lying about it. England's invovlment in such scheme's is well documented. Anyone who doesn't assume that their government is watching, is IMHO, maintaining a rather distorted view of how government functions.

    That Sweden is admitting this, is really at least a breath of fresh air...
    not that it makes the practice any better, at least their can be public debate..
  • by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @05:01PM (#18293938)
    Just because something becomes technologically possible (i.e. mass screening of emails) does not suddenly make it ok. No-one would have accepted such things in the days of snail nail. Can you imagine a democratic leader in the 80s explaining why everyone's letters needed to be steamed open and photocopied to counter the threat of the Soviet Union?

    You're much more likely to be killed in a violent mugging than by terrorists. Does that mean we should allow mass email screening to identify muggers? Would they be stupid enough to discuss mugging people in emails if they knew everything was being screened? Of course not, and terrorists aren't stupid enough to discuss terrorism either.

    Even if it did catch a few terrorists it's not worth giving up your freedoms for anymore that it would be worth giving them up for the possibility of catching a few more violent criminals. It doesn't take much for a democratic system to lurch towards tyranny and it is the height of stupidity to provide the facilities that make it possible.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Considering this started back in 1900, and opening, reading, and censoring mail during WW2 was done from the very beginning [archives.gov], I can completely imagine it. In fact, FDR established an actual Office of Censorship - that was the OFFICIAL name!

      Communications into and out of a country - contact with foreign destinations - has ALWAYS been a target of governments, and rightly so. It's always been the stance of the courts as well that international communications is fair game - you do not need a warrant.

      In fac

I never cheated an honest man, only rascals. They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something. -- Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil