The awful Data Retention Directive appears to be coming to its end in the European Union. On March 23, the Commission will present an evaluation of the directive, which is expected to be damning on pretty much all accounts, according to what has been leaked. Courts in several countries (Germany, Romania, Cyprus, Hungary) has flat out struck down data retention as incompatible with fundamental human rights.
So seeing that the Commission is about to pretty much pull back the entire directive on March 23, what does the Swedish government — which refused to touch this before the elections last year — do? It plans to push through the dystopic surveillance in a vote in parliament on March 16.
This is not just absurd, it is plain irresponsible.
What is Data Retention?
We all love when bad things are given technical and obscure names. Simply put, Data Retention turns your cellphone into a permanent always-active governmental tracking device recording your movement history. Its effects were recently studied in Germany, where the Green politician Malte Spitz allowed his data for six months to be partially analyzed, and we should all watch the results. Motions are tracked down to street level, with minute-by-minute resolution.
In addition to this, Data Retention also tracks all calls, texts and emails to build an image of the people you associate with and when. Think Facebook is bad? Imagine not being given a choice, and then, perhaps being accidentally called by a pusher now and then. “Oops.” Was it your fault? Of course not. Will you suffer for it? Sure you will.
Oh, and Data Retention will also track you on the net, primarily your IP address (but some countries also mandate logging all websites you visit, like Denmark).
Data Retention goes way beyond any surveillance that has ever been available in any pervasive Big Brother state, and it has been pushed by the European Union. One of its architects was the Swedish Big-Brother hawk Thomas Bodström, which was described by the chairman of his own party’s youth wing as “the politician who has flushed civil liberties down the toilet”. His successor, Beatrice Ask, is just as happy introducing pervasive surveillance.
Just today, I got news that the same kind of mass surveillance is being rolled out in Beijing. We hardly have any high moral ground from where to criticize.
Plans of the Swedish Government
Data Retention is being justified by the necessity of police to track really serious criminal activity. Now, while this may sound amicable, we have a tradition in democratic states of not letting the police do everything they want, and I think that’s a pretty good tradition.
The desire to have a closer look at a few individuals does not motivate putting everybody under surveillance. Neither from a legal, philosophical nor human perspective.
However, the next steps of this surveillance are already in place, which include letting the police access the surveillance records for all crimes, from helmetless bicycling and up. Yes, file sharing is specifically mentioned as a target.
The ISP Bahnhof has already gone on record saying it will sabotage the surveillance by a technical construct whereby only useless IP data will be collected, standing firmly on its customers’ side, which in turn caused the copyright industry’s lobby to go stratospheric. Why does the copyright industry want Data Retention so badly? It’s not hard to guess, and they have even gone on record demanding extrajudicial access to the surveillance data.
Do you prefer fundamental human rights or the copyright monopoly?
Forcing this mass-surveillance legislation through Parliament at the last minute when the European Commission is expected to come with an utterly damning evaluation is not just irresponsible. It shows just how much the Swedish Government is in bed with the copyright industry’s lobby and really is architecting a Big Brother society.