Justice Minister Knut Storberget tackled a US Embassy surveillance scandal in Parliament on Wednesday, and offered seven proposed measures for trying to limit such surveillance from occurring again. All embassies in Oslo will be told they’re expected to follow Norwegian law.
Storberget made it clear that he’s deeply troubled by the surveillance program that was conducted by the US Embassy on Norwegian soil for the past 10 years without the permission of any Norwegian government during the period. He was unaware of it himself and he told MPs that he’d questioned earlier justice ministers and other government colleagues. None knew that the US Embassy was systematically taking photos of Norwegian civilians, registering them and sending the information to a database in the US.
Storberget suggested the surveillance, if not illegal, tested the limits of what is allowed in Norway. He said he was glad that Norwegian police, concerned about the surveillance, informed the US Embassy about what was legal and what limits “should not be crossed.” He stressed that any “irregular practice” must be reported to higher authorities, including those in government.
He said he’s now reviewing seven measures to prevent another surveillance scandal:
** He will examine current reporting rules for police and the police intelligence unit PST and determine whether they need to be sharpened. This will include evaluating routines now in place.
** Both he and the foreign minister will attempt to formalize routines regarding contact between Norwegian authorities and representatives of foreign states.
** The foreign minister will repeat demands made to representatives of foreign states that they respect Norwegian law. Both the foreign and justice ministers will take the initiative for meetings between relevant Norwegian officials and those at the US Embassy in particular, “to clarify the framework allowed for security operations.”
** The government will review whether former police and military personnel should be subject to quarantine before taking on new jobs. The US Embassy hired former Norwegian police, military and security officers to conduct their surveillance, and that’s also raised concerns.
** The justice minister will evaluate whether it’s necessary to further clarify ethical guidelines for police officers, especially regarding their contact with former police colleagues. Storberget is concerned over reports that the Norwegians hired by the embassy used their former colleagues to extract information from police files.
** When investigations into the embassy surveillance are completed, the justice and foreign ministers will evaluate whether there are needs for further measures.
Meanwhile, Storberget also expressed concern over reports that those conducting surveillance for the embassy may have attempted to impersonate police officers themselves. When fire broke out in the building near the embassy where the surveillance unit based its operations, those working there allegedly tried to prevent firefighters from entering, identifying themselves as “police” when they no longer were.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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