Swedish Christian Democrat challenge to make data protection better

Few people have evaded the Christian democrat proposal  to reform the present Swedish institutional framework in such a way that public authorities should no longer be able to make large-scale trading of personal data they have collected from Swedish citizens, without having a choice for Swedish citizens to abstain from the collection.  Nils Agnesson writes at dataskydd.net that the EU proposal for a data protection regulation in fact already handles most of the problems the Christian Democrats describe. So it sounds and hopeful for the future that one of the Swedish government parties actually does support reforms that are in line with fundamental human rights and the privacy of Swedish citizens?

But what is the government position?

Well, the Swedish government has been lobbying very hard to get a special exception in  the data protection regulation which would permit exactly the kind of personal data trading by public authorities that is now harshly criticized by the Christian Democrats. The result is a new bit of added text, an article 80(a), which effectively removes all protection from all European citizens in every European country against this type of abuse of power, which is seen by most citizens as something inherently unfair and bad for the public sector to do.

The Swedish registry .SE identify quickly that this issue is connected to the data protection regulation and urge the Christian Democrats to look towards Brussels, rather than turning introvert. It's clearly not one day too soon. The Swedish government is currently making many less wise conclusions in Brussels during their negotiations in the Council of Ministers with the other member states. These negotiations could end already in this year, and the Parliament will consolidate its own positions in September 2013 if all goes as planned.

Afterwards, there will be compromises between the Parliament and the Council. Many people aspire to have it done already before the elections, but as we understand, a compromise between two institutions will never be stronger than the respective position adopted beforehand by each of those institutions. So the negotiations inside of the Parliament and inside of the Council of Ministers matter a lot(!)

But the Christian Democrat debate proposal has also received lots of strange reactions. Local Uppsala newspaper UNT and Anna Troberg are criticizing the Christian Democrats because of the FRA law - the law which consolidated a very strong position of power for the Swedish national security agency.  They are a problem, but a separate problem from the issue of Swedish public authorities trading in citizens the way normal people trade in chewing gums (at a low price and in bulk). The Swedish public authority abuse of citizen confidence and trust has more to do with the Swedish transparency principle. Because a public authority has to give up information, they have devised a system where they charge for copies (this is related to the birth of the Xerox in the 1970s I'm told) and this has turned into trivial charging even for things that don't require photocopying, and primarily, it's turned into a citizen trading post. This issue has already been addressed in Sweden,  in april. At that time, the Swedish government promised that they would fight with all they had to worsen the privacy rights of Swedish citizens in Brussels, to save transparency. The Swedish government in this issue was the brave knight in shining armour, which reserved the right to decide that the Transport Agency, Company Registry, Tax Authority and others should be allowed to violate trusts - while profiting  - and that any threat of privacy and institutional trust emerging from the south would be boldly defeated.

After we have had a larger discussion on the sales of personal data by the tax authority, I heard a very strange idea from a politician in Stockholm that had been speaking to a, for me, unknown source, who claimed that the Tax Authority would be forced to by an EU directive to sell their population registry. Nothing could be more wrong. Most member states would not accept, by law, that their public authorities act thusly. This might be a sign of ordinary ignorance in the Swedish political classes, of course, but it also connects to a very real and eminent Swedish problem. We are unable to carry responsibility for our own institutional fuck-ups and rather victimize ourselves with respect to the EU.

Also leading pundits like Hanne Kjöller at DN write replies. Instead of a strong and effective EU law on data protection, she suggests a minister of privacy who can solve problems later, some other time, perhaps in the next Swedish legislature, rather than having the current Minister of Justice doing a good job with the legislation that is actually being discussed at this time. Hanne Kjöller also writes that we may need weaker privacy protection in some cases, but as a regular correspondent on police issues it's strange that she misses the point that national security agencies and police authorities in all countries of the world give themselves access to any database which exists. So if we value patient-doctor secrecy and confidentiality we may want to actually think twice about stuff. We don't take these things lightly for a reason.

Pundit Sanna Rayman at SvD says that she's just out of hope. She doesn't know what to ask the government to do. She doesn't understand what they can do. I tried to send her an e-mail this spring with notifications on the data protection regulation - and she could ask the government to do a good job with it, but that doesn't happen. Also the Christian Democrats should be doing this. It's very important that the data protection regulation becomes the legislation we want.

More or less every government in Europe, many large and badly informed industries that I have written about a large number of times, want to weaken and undermine our right to privacy through changing the data protection regulation as was proposed by the European Commission. They have pulled a lot of parliament members with them in this downward spiral. But we can be very useful in the Swedish debate at this time through addressing this problem. We're not just going for the same privacy rights we already had - 20 years experience tells us it's not enough. We need to move on, and have a strong, enforceable law which gives to citizens the rights that they expect and need.


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