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12th Apr 2021

Swedish FM to head new inquiry into NSA revelations

  • Bildt: 'Net freedom is as fundamental as freedom of information and freedom of speech in our societies' (Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Regeringskansliet)

An new commission to be headed by Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt is set to investigate the implications of the US snooping affair for the future of the internet.

“In most countries, increased attention is being given to all the issues of net freedom, net security and net governance. And they are, in my view, closely related to each other,” Bildt said in a statement on Wednesday (22 January).

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The Global Commission on Internet Governance - launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Swizterland, this week - has a two-year mission to investigate state censorship of the internet and the mass surveillance and bulk processing of personal data by US and UK intelligence agencies.

The project is the brainchild of two think tanks: the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in the US and the UK’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, better known as Chatham House.

The 25-member panel includes Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal MEP and a prominent digital rights campaigner.

Former intelligence officials and academics also sit on the panel.

“The commission’s work is also intended to build on a number of important strategic dialogues that are already underway and to feed into on-going policy discussions at the global level,” said a CIGI director.

The inquiry did not list the countries it intends to investigate, but notes on its website that a number of authoritarian states are waging a campaign to exert state control over critical online resources.

The US-based NGO Human Rights Watch in its annual report, out earlier this week, warned the US snooping revelations, leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, could give a pretext for countries with poor human rights standards to clamp down ever further on internet freedoms.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama last week announced new measures to increase judicial oversight of data collection, but ruled out setting up legal safeguards to restrict surveillance of “foreign persons overseas.”

“The whole point of intelligence is to gather information that is not publically available,” he said.

US-led spy programmes, scuh as Prism, are said to give its National Security Agency (NSA) back-door entry into major American tech and Internet firms, in a revelation that could prompt foreign clients to leave in search of more secure services elsewhere.

The EU, for its part, says US cloud companies, such as Google and Microsoft, stand to lose billions over the next three years as non-American clients depart.

The pressure to restore trust among foreign clients has prompted Microsoft to move its servers outside the US and the easy reach of the NSA.

Microsoft’s chief lawyer Brad Smith told the Financial Times newspaper on Wednesday that people should be able to choose where their data is stored given the different models on privacy around the world.

“People should have the ability to know whether their data are being subjected to the laws and access of governments in some other country and should have the ability to make an informed choice of where their data resides,” he said, in a statement welcomed by civil liberties activists.

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