A new government investigation has proposed letting Swedish police use Trojans and other spyware to read encrypted traffic from the phones and computers of suspected criminals in order to crack down on rising crime.
A report by government investigator Petra Lundh has presented the idea of broadening the police’s technological repertoire in intercepting data from criminals’ computers, phones and other appliances. The idea is that criminals are increasingly relying on apps that use encryption, which significantly complicates the work of the police.
The method, called secret data reading, is highly controversial. The Swedish Bar Association Secretary General Anne Ramberg previously warned that it allows the authorities to follow a person around the clock in real time. Ramberg, who participated in the investigation in the capacity of an expert, argued that it was difficult to maintain the balance between aiding the police in crime-fighting and liming the people’s integrity. However, government investigator Petra Lundh argued that the police’s needs outweigh privacy risks, the Sydsvenskan daily reported.
The idea is to intercept communications before they are encrypted. In practice, this can be achieved by planting spyware on the suspected offenders’ computers, mobile phones and the like. Outstanding questions include how to handle the information collected in a way that doesn’t undermine privacy and what kind of crimes will secret data reading be an acceptable tool for investigation.
Petra Lundh pointed out that legislation on secret data reading is already available in other Nordic countries, such as Denmark, which has had it since 2002. Lundh described the proposal as “resource intensive,” adding that it probably won’t be used in more than 50-100 cases per year.
“The method may only be used as a targeted measure, for example against a suspect’s mobile phone,” Petra Lundh said, as quoted by the Dagens Nyheter daily. “The measure may only be used in very serious crime, such as murder, terrorist offenses, gross drug offenses, and shall always be proportionate and may only take place after judicial review,” she added.
Lundh ensured that supervision by the Security and Integrity Protection Board will be in place.
“For operators, it should be an opportunity, not an obligation, to participate,” Petra Lundh said.
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson welcomed the proposal and admitted he saw great need for the method, not only in terms of combating terrorism but also serious crime.
“My view is that we need to keep up with technology and crime. This is a good suggestion,” Johansson said.
The investigation was launched by the Swedish government after the terrorist attacks in Paris in the autumn of 2015. Secret data reading was then identified as one of the most efficient weapons in the fight against terrorism, which, in turn, can be broken down into many different crimes.
Previous Initiative Failed
In Sweden, secret data reading was already recommended by a government investigation in 2005. Back then, the police suggested using it to investigate any crime for which the perpetrator could receive two years in prison. In addition to terrorism, this method was proposed in order to tackle child pornography and major instances of hacking. This compares with the current requirements for wiretapping, which entails a “justified suspicion” of crime with a minimum sentence of four years’ imprisonment.
The 2005 proposal was criticized by several referral bodies. The Data Inspectorate found that secret data reading store all captured information such as audio, images, private correspondence. Consequently, the 2005 proposal ended up in the government’s trash bin.
If accepted, the new bill may enter into force on January 1, 2019.