PST boss seeks more surveillance

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UPDATED; Benedicte Bjørnland, chief of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste), is calling for new and controversial means of surveillance that “send chills down the spine” of privacy advocates. Bjørnland contends the new surveillance methods are necessary in the fight against terrorism and extremism, but she looks unlikely to win political support.

Benedicte Bjørnland, new head of police intelligence agency, wants to help prevent youth from becoming radical. She and her colleagues still see radical Islamists as posing the biggest security threat in Norway. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Benedicte Bjørnland, head of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST, still sees radical Islamists as posing the biggest security threat in Norway. Now she’s calling for new and controversial means of monitoring them. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

As the world watches in horror as radical, extreme Islamists, some of them from Norway, unleash a bloodbath in Syria and Iraq, Bjørnland and her team at PST want to be better able to reveal what they call “suspicious behaviour” by potential terror suspects.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Friday that Bjørnland was revealing her plans at a debate on terror and transparency at a meeting of Nordic legal experts on Friday. She intends to ask for the authority to impose new methods of gathering, storing and analyzing “big data.” They involve using enormous quantities of electronic data to search for patterns and context that’s not possible for humans to track.

“I believe there’s a need in Norway to be able to implement new analytical technology to in turn be able to reveal patterns and trends, forming a basis for good analyses and to reveal suspicious behaviour by some individuals,” Bjørnland wrote in remarks prepared for the meeting.

Tracking Norwegian extremists
In the past few years, Bjørnland notes, an extreme Islamic movement has developed in Norway that’s constantly trying to recruit new members. Several Norwegians already have headed for the Middle East, to take part in jihad and receive more ideological indoctrination. Bjørnland notes that electronic communication is also used by the extremists to radicalize new recruits, and much of it is encoded. That’s why PST faces new challenges in monitoring it in the hopes of preventing terrorist attacks.

Specifically, PST wants to use means of data screening that give access to encoded information, to be allowed to gather and store data and to ease Norwegian regulations regarding confidentialy that would allow PST and other authorities to demand information from, for example, health care workers and employees at schools and day care centers.

PST also wants Norway to adopt the EU directive 2006/24/EF that requires storage of electronic data that can provide authorities with information about who people have had contact with via telephone and email, and when and where it occurred. The directive also allows tracking of which Internet sites people have visited via their computers or mobile phones. The directive was adopted by the Norwegian Parliament in 2011 but its implementation has been delayed several times, not least after an EU court ruled that it violated European privacy laws and declared it invalid. The Norwegian government has since declared it will introduce a new proposed law regarding storage of communications information.

Strong opposition
PST’s new wishlist is already meeting strong opposition from Datatilsynet, the state authority charged with trying to protect Norwegians’ privacy. It had opposed the EU directive (called datalagringsdirektivet) all along on the grounds it posed a serious threat to to personal privacy.  If PST is allowed to gather, store and analyze data from personal communications, privacy experts argue, it can mean that many innocent citizens wind up in PST’s register, even if they’ve only been mentioned in blogs or on social media.

Bjørn Erik Thon, director of Datatilsynet, told newspaper Klassekampen that use of “big data” can lead to “massive surveillance” of the civilian population, and that the kind of surveillance that’s been revealed in the US shouldn’t be a role model for Norway. “Effectively putting all of society under investigation is quite different from investigating individual suspects,” Thon told Klassekampen.

Political opposition is also strong, with NRK reporting later in the day that both of the parties forming Norway’s conservative coalition government, the Progress Party and the Conservatives, say that they won’t carry Bjørnland’s proposals further. The government’s two small support parties in Parliament, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, also rejected Bjørnland’s call for new forms of surveillance to fight terror and the Socialist Left party (SV) was opposed as well. Labour, meanwhile, said it was “critical” of her proposal but would study it further.

Bjørnland admits that PST would stand to gain information about people “who don’t meet” PST’s targets and aren’t relevant to PST’s hunt for criminals and terrorists. But she worries that if PST isn’t allowed to adopt the new technology available, it will fall far behind in its efforts to maintain national security. PST and other countries’ intelligence agencies claim that data storage and analysis are critical if they’re to effectively fight serious crime and ward off potential terrorist attacks.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund