The Norwegian government has decided to allow the police intelligence agency PST to store all comments written on public platforms for five years and maybe more. Human rights advocates fear it will have a “chilling effect” on the public debate, while state data authorities call it “limitless gathering” of potentially sensitive information.
Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl counters that PST needs to monitor and store what’s written on public platforms (such as media comment fields and social media) in order to chart and uncover potential threats to Norwegian society.
“We face new and unknown threats that it’s important for PST to be able to pick up, for example development of violent climate extremism,” Mehl said at a press conference Friday. She’s also worried about hybrid warfare and other forms of extremism that can surface on debate platforms.
“PST has to follow the Internet, where potentially dangers players are,” Mehl said. “The government wants to make sure PST is able to uncover new threats, and follow developments in extremism, espionage and possible terrorism.”
Officials at Datatilsynet, charged with ensuring privacy, are both skeptical and critical: “This proposal involves limitless collection of information about Norwegian citizens’ activity on the Internet, which can give PST an intimate glimpse into everyone’s lives,” wrote director Line Coll in a statement to news bureau NTB. “It overlooks the fundamental principles of privacy and lacks control mechanisms that would preserve our human rights in a satisfactory manner.”
PST chief Hedvig Moe insists the new law doesn’t involve any massive surveillance: “We won’t be reading folks’ email or invade sites that are password-protected.”
PST wanted to store data for 15 years but the government has reduced that to five. The proposal is likely to win majority support in Parliament, since opposition parties were poised to offer PST even broader authority to store information from open sources.