Royals may also have been under surveillance

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An investigation into illegal surveillance of the highest levels of government in Norway has spread to the Royal Palace. Police are probing whether military data security experts have illegally been monitoring royal communications.

Sven Gjeruldsen, chief spokesman for Norway’s royal family, told newspaper VG and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday morning that palace staff “was aware” that police are investigating whether there’s been any illegal monitoring of palace communications.

Gjeruldsen refused to comment further, and investigators at the special state police crime unit Kripos declined comment as well. Military officials feel hindered from commenting while the probe proceeds, but later flatly denied they had opened or read any royal e-mail.

VG reported that there has been contact between the staff at the palace, the Norwegian Defense Ministry and Kripos, which already is investigating suspicions of illegal monitoring of Internet activity within the Office of the Prime Minister, the Justice Ministry and other top government ministries.

The question is whether military data experts charged with ensuring the security of government communications lines have instead been snooping themselves.The Defense Ministry intelligence agency FOST (Forsvarets sikkerhetstjeneste) is responsible for data security on military lines, which also are used by top ministries and the Royal Palace.

The experts at FOST, however, have no authority to monitor which Internet pages are being viewed by government personnel within the ministries or at the palace.VG reported that in the case of the palace probe, there also are concerns that the military has monitored royal e-mail communications.

Suspicions of data surveillance reportedly surfaced earlier this year. In one case, an employee at the prime minister’s office received a warning from FOST that there may have been a breach of communications security. VG reported that the employee alerted superiors and it eventually led to the Defense Ministry asking Kripos to investigate, apparently because FOST wasn’t supposed to be monitoring the prime minister’s staff’s communications.

In another case, an employee at the Justice Ministry reportedly set off a security alarm when surfing Internet porn sites. At the Royal Palace, VG reported there were “irregularities” that indicated someone had obtained access to the otherwise locked royal communications network.

Georg Apenes, head of the civilian agency charged with ensuring privacy in Norway (Datatilsynet) , told Aftenposten he was “astonished” by what’s shaping up as a surveillance scandal. “I think this case will raise a lot of privacy questions,” Apenes said. “We all must accept that we have someone keeping an eye on our government officials. What amazes me is why no one told them that their Internet traffic was under surveillance.

“It’s a very special situation when someone is put under surveillance without knowing about it.”