The latest country looking to go down to the route of mass surveillance and bulk data collection is perhaps one of the more unlikely to opt for these tactics.
But according to reports, Norway has approved a proposal by the Norwegian Intelligence Service to monitor all online and telephone communication which takes place between Norway and other countries.
This mass surveillance of all cross-border communication is being justified, as always, by the argument that it will help Norway to protect itself from terrorism and cybercrime.
It is an argument that some could argue carries some weight in the USA or the UK, but Norway is not exactly at the centre of the war on terror. There also seems to be scant evidence of Norway being targeted by Islamic fundamentalists, or any other terrorists for that matter.
By far the most severe terrorist attack in Norway in recent years was the slaughter of 77 people by Anders Behring Breivik, but he was a far-right Norwegian citizen and these powers would have had no effect on his attack.
Nevertheless, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has reported [Norwegian] that the proposed new powers have been approved by the Defence Committee, and recommended by the Defence Minister. Now they just need to pass Parliament too, although that doesn’t look like being much of a problem.
So what will the new powers entail? Essentially they will allow the Norwegian Intelligence Service to access both the data and content of any communication which crosses the Norwegian border. It includes communication which originates in Norway and that which originates overseas.
The power will apply not just to suspected criminals and terrorists, but to every Norwegian citizen. It should be noted that the Defence Committee has advised the use of targeted surveillance only, but the collection of bulk data is still permitted within the law.
The breadth of data that the Norwegian Intelligence Service will be permitted to gather is staggering. It will include all data which is kept in cloud storage facilities based overseas, social media contacts and content, and any information held on a mobile device which might be sent abroad.
The legislation also allows for the collection of both encrypted and unencrypted data, although details of how they will collect and decode encrypted data are sparse at the present time.
Digital Border Defence:
The new powers have been dubbed ‘digital border defence’ and Norway will not be the first Scandinavian country to introduce them. Sweden passed laws which permitted a similar surveillance programme back in 2008.
That law led to large and vocal protests from privacy advocates and human rights campaigns in Sweden, and the Norwegian proposals have been met with a similar response.
Interestingly, politicians also appeared to be sceptical when the idea was first muted. According to Aftenposten, the governing coalition parties, the Conservatives and the Progress Party, were far from positive in their initial response. Meanwhile, the opposition Centre Party described the plans as “mass surveillance”.
However, in a statement this week recommending the proposals, Norway’s Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said that the powers were necessary because at present “the Norwegian Intelligence Service has only a limited ability to intercept overseas communications.
No mention seems to have been made to the fact that this data is already collected by a number of Norway’s allies, including the US, the UK, and Sweden and quite conceivably made available to the Norwegian Intelligence agencies in any case.
So it seems likely that progressive and liberal Norway is going to become the latest nation to begin to impinge on its citizen’s freedoms behind the mask of security.
Norway’s citizens are internet-savvy and value their rights highly, and if the proposals are approved by Parliament, we can expect to see a spike of Norwegian subscribers to VPNs and other services to hide their online activity from this state surveillance.
But nevertheless, it sends a pretty dire message to the rest of the free world, when even in Norway, the Government wants to read your emails and listen in on your phone calls.