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Swedish spy agency sics lawyers on wiretap critic

Whose free speech is it anyway?

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Swedish spy authorities have taken legal action against a Brussels-based blogger who published a classified document purporting to prove they snooped on individual Swedes more than a decade ago.

The country's National Defence Radio Establishment, which in Swedish translates into the acronym FRA, filed a complaint against Henrik Alexandersson. The blogger is a fierce critic of a Swedish snoop law that permits authorities to tap all communications that travel across Swedish borders and to turn over intercepted messages with international security agencies.

Last week, he published a document that documented communications between Swedish and Russian businesses in 1996. It included several Russian fax numbers that were used to carry the communications. The blogger claims the FRA intercepted the information by monitoring the lines.

In a complaint filed with Sweden's chancellor of Justice, the FRA calls the post a "crime against freedom of speech." The agency also vehemently denies it monitored cables.

It seems that at least a few people inside Sweden's government aren't happy with the the FRA's new powers either, and lately, they've taken to turning over classified documents to Alexandersson purporting to show abuses.

Alexandersson has posted other confidential documents that cast the FRA in an unfavorable light. One contained a list of 103 Swedish citizens registered and monitored by the FRA, purportedly for the sole reason that they happened to be in Russia.

The FRA's complaint is the latest salvo fired in the controversy over Sweden's new wiretap law. As we've pointed out before, the law is so broad that it is likely to snare communications between parties with no tie at all to the country as long as it makes a hop somewhere in Sweden (for example, an email sent from a BT address in London to someone in Finland). Some critics have compared it to the environment depicted in George Orwell's 1984.

More details are available here and here.

Update

According to blogger Wille Faler here, Swedish authorities are having second thoughts about pursuing Alexandersson following a very public and very acrimonious backlash. Faler says the uproar has spurred many bloggers to republish the confidential document, paradoxically causing the FRA's attempts to squelch the report to only give it more publicity. The phenomenon has come to be known as the "Streisand effect," after attempts by the singer to suppress pictures of her beach-front property generated so much interest they eventually wound up on the net.

Here's how Faler puts it:

After well founded rumours from police sources of an arrest warrant out for mr. Alexandersson, the authorities seem to have backed off for the moment, as they saw the Streisand effect come into full swing - the attempts to censor and silence critics by thinly veiled threats of legal action backfired royally, at this time, by my own count, at least 40 other bloggers have copied the classified documents in question and republished them.

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