As of 1 January 2009, Sweden’s new anti-terrorism law will come into effect, allowing its intelligence services to read and listen to any correspondence in and out of Sweden. The law passed by the slimmest of margins in the Swedish parliament, and is now the subject of intense debate in the Nordic Council.
What’s at stake is the privacy of Denmark’s journalists. The Copenhagen Post reported the Danish Union of Journalists (DJ) has informed its members that most of their correspondence could be intercepted and read by Swedish intelligence. This may even include phone calls that take place completely within Danish territory if the signal happens to pass through Swedish airspace or cyberspace.
The fear for Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, DJ’s president, is that the new law will scare off many of the sources used by Danish reporters out of concern for their own security. “There could be a story within public administration or within a company where the source wants to pass on information anonymously,” Bjerregaard told Politiken newspaper. “The gang milieu is also an obvious area where a source may feel their safety is threatened by this new law.”
Although Swedish authorities argue that their surveillance will be programmed to scan specifically for correspondence containing buzzwords like “bomb,” this is not good enough for Bjerregaard. The anonymity of sources is vital to a free press. “Every time we take these small steps in the name of security it has consequences that create deep problems for an open, democratic society,” he argues.
It is not just Danish communications at risk; all communications passing through Swedish air or cyberspace will be subject to the new law, wherever they come from.