Scandinavia is widely seen as being one part of the world which stands as a bastion of liberal values and free speech. So, it is perhaps a little surprising that the latest country that is planning to enhance their online surveillance powers is Sweden.
Proposals which have leaked to the Swedish ISP Bahnhof [in Swedish] this week indicate that the Swedish Government is planning to extend their online data surveillance powers. This will include extending the length of time ISPs are required to retain user data. Currently, this requirement is for six months, but if the new proposals come into force that would be extended to 10 months.
As a member of the EU, Sweden is bound by a 2014 ruling from European Court of Justice which outlawed data retention. But as Jon Karlung, the CEO of Bahnhof has said, ” The proposals crash with very clear statements from the European Court of Justice… Sweden is raising the massive data storage instead of slowing down.”
The proposals have been made as part of an inquiry into the existing data retention regime in Sweden which came into force in 2010. It now appears that this inquiry is being used as a pretext to beef up that regime rather than examine its effectiveness. A proposal to undermine the anonymity of VPNs is also included in the leaked documents.
Could Sweden’s internet become more like China?
According to Bahnhof, one of the other proposals is a requirement for ISPs to reduce the number of Swedish internet users who share IP Addresses. This appears to be a transparent attempt to make it easier for Swedish law enforcement agencies to link online activity to individual users.
It would be a big and expensive ask for Swedish ISPs as it would require a complete reworking of their entire networks. has said this would likely cost his company hundreds of millions of Swedish Krona.
Karlung claims that the ISP industry in Sweden is in a state of “rebellion” as a result of the proposals and states that it feels as if Sweden is trying to imitate the internet surveillance powers of Communist China, “where the state requires the network to be tailor-made for monitoring, not for the internet to work as well as possible.”
He has also suggested that the new proposals were not universally popular within the Swedish Government which is likely to be one of the reasons they have leaked out ahead of their proposed announcement on October 9th.
VPN surveillance planned too?
In their initial release, Bahnhof also suggested that Swedish authorities might be planning to introduce VPN surveillance as well. This was their interpretation of part of the new proposals which demanded that ISPs should keep logs of the “first activation of anonymization services”. In other words, they would need to keep a record of every user who connected to a VPN.
Bahnhof has now backtracked on this claim a little, suggesting in an update to their initial post that this was now more likely to apply to a “prepaid card for mobile telephony” than a VPN. But it has nonetheless raised considerable concerns with privacy campaigners and within the VPN community.
If this law were to apply to VPNs, Sweden would become the first democratic Western country to take such a step and it would again move their policies much closer to those of the authoritarian regimes in places like China and Russia.
Writing in a blog of his VPNs website, the Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access VPN, described the potential plans as a ““doubling down on the forbidden concept of surveillance of people who are not currently any suspicion.”
It is to be hoped that Bahnhof has indeed misread the new policies, but VPN users in Sweden will nonetheless be worried. And even if this particular regular doesn’t prove to be true, there is still much to concern internet users in Sweden who appear set to see their online privacy undermined once more.
As such, despite the potential threat they face in Sweden, a VPN such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN remains an important tool for Swedes who really want to keep their online activities away from the prying eyes of Scandinavia’s worst surveillance state.