​Denmark's plan to give spooks greater-than-NSA spy powers sparks outcry

Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
Copenhagen is considering empowering its intelligence services to conduct covert electronic surveillance on citizens abroad without the need for a court order. Outraged privacy advocates have pledged to fight the initiative.

Despite the global outpouring of criticism of the National Security Agency and its affiliated partners in the so-called Five Eyes spying ring, which was exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, it seems the Danish government is only too willing to take spying to an unprecedented new level.

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As part of a package of new anti-terror initiatives, Copenhagen is now prepared to empower the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, or FE) with greater snooping authority than the NSA.

The announcement came in the wake of February 14-15 shootings that put the Danish capital on high alert after two people were killed, and five police officers injured.

Last week, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt presented a 12-point anti-terror plan that will cost taxpayers 970 million kroner ($148m) over the next four years.

"We want to strengthen our ability to gather and analyze [information] about terror planning abroad," Thorning-Schmidt told reporters. "We want to ensure that the intelligence service is able to monitor Danes who travel abroad to take part in extremist activities."

Defense Minister Nicolai Wammen believes it is necessary to track Danes who may travel abroad to participate in extremist activities, thus posing a national security risk when they return to Denmark.

"This initiative will enable us earlier in the process than today to go in and get information that can help to secure Denmark against potential terrorist attacks. It is a system that suits Denmark and the serious threats we face, and to ensure our country best,” Wammen wrote in a statement published in Berlingske News.

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However, plans to give Danish intelligence what appears to be unlimited access to the electronic communications of Danish citizens abroad is being criticized by privacy watchdog groups, including the think-tank Justitia and Associate Professor Anders Henriksen, from the University of Copenhagen.

"Both the rules of the NSA and GCHQ governing their own nationals abroad is said to contain better safeguards than the FE proposal. This is especially true for the US system, where monitoring requires a prior court order of a court. The British system requires prior approval and fulfillment of certain objective criteria. The order must be issued by a minister,” according to the joint analysis, as reported in Politiken.

“Those conditions that normally need to be met in order to get a court order are not present [in the Danish proposal]. And when there are weaker grounds for suspicion without independent controls, there is a risk of abuse,” said the head of Justitia, Jacob Mchangama.

Danish parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee will debate the proposal in a closed-door session on Wednesday.