Swedish Sardine

In the wake of Barack Obama’s visit to my native Sweden this week, the news broke that Swedish defense signal intelligence agency FRA collaborate with the NSA (and supposedly as a part of PRISM) to monitor traffic in the Baltic Sea underwater cables – code-name “Sardine” (of course it would have a code-name, these are secret agents after all). No wonder Sweden’s PM Reinfeldt was so hesitant to bring up PRISM during the visit (instead Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt raised the issue over dinner, where the Nordic heads of state took part). FRA’s internet surveillance was controversial when it was first introduced in Sweden in 2008 and as a result put on a short leash: court approval is required for all monitoring. This is in stark contrast to PRISM, which according to the media reports seems to have had a much larger scope – to the extent that Obama suggested tighter rules may be necessary at the press conference in Stockholm. The question remains, though: the wars of tomorrow will be online to a large extent and defense agencies need to adjust.  But no state would ever give the military carte blanche license to achieve its objectives, rather its responsibility and chain-of-command is strictly regulated and always under democratic control (the opposite is a military state, with the current situation in Egypt being a nightmare example). The same should apply to cyber-defense: transparent rules with strong limitations. That actually sounds like a good recipe for most things relating to the online society. The take-away from other areas is crystal clear: just because tech makes something possible does not mean it should be done.