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More questions than answers on Denmark's place in NSA scandal

Justice minister says that neither PET nor NSA have broken any laws, but the journalist that started the whole thing says much more information is on the way


"No, seriously, wipe your phones!" The prime minister said that she has no reason to believe she has been spyed on ... yet (Photo:Scanpix)

October 28, 2013
19:57

by Ray Weaver


As evidence continue to mount that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has listened in on the telephone calls and other communications of European citizens and leaders, the question of whether the spying has made its way to Denmark still remains.

Both PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S), and the justice minister, Morten Bødskov (S), said that they know of no “illegal” monitoring of Danish residents by the NSA, but whether Danes have been snooped on legally seems to remain in question.

"I have no indication that there has been illegal surveillance of Danes or Danish interests," Bødskov told Berlingske newspaper. 

When pressed as to whether legal surveillance had happened, Bødskov said that he would not comment on specific cases.

READ MORE: NSA surveillance foiled Jyllands-Posten terrorist attack, US says

Carefully-worded response
Jacob Mchangama, the chief legal counsel of the liberal think-tank CEPOS, said that they way Bødskov parsed his response suggests that there may be an agreement between the US and Denmark that allows for certain types of ‘legal’ spying.

"A possible explanation [for Bødskov specifically saying ‘illegal surveillance'] could be that Denmark has signed an intelligence sharing agreement with the US,” Mchangama told Berlingske. “The agreement may state that the US must comply with Danish law, but whether they do or not remains an open question.”

Bødskov refused to comment on how Denmark co-operates with foreign intelligence agencies, but said that those operations have helped prevent possible terrorist attacks in Denmark. He gave a “rock solid” guarantee that domestic intelligence agency PET follows Danish law when it engages in surveillance and must get court orders before it listens in on any citizen.

READ MORE: Denmark in US spy agreement?

Parliament wants to know more
The justice minister’s word is not enough for some members of parliament.

"No-one in parliament knows the extent of the surveillance or what it is being used for,” Venstre spokesperson Karsten Lauritzen told Berlingske. “The justice minister is the only one who knows, and it is undemocratic that the parliament is not informed – even with the highest level of confidentiality – about who is being monitored and why. We simply do not know.”

Enhedslisten spokesperson Pernille Skipper agreed.

”I think we have gone too far in our efforts to combat terrorism,” she told Berlingske. “If we create a totalitarian society of surveillance in which personal freedoms are violated and the state can look at any one whether or not they have done anything illegal, the terrorists win.'

Bødskov said that he has no plans to change current laws or practices, including the logningsbekendtgørelse which allows, among other things, for the logging of Danish telecommunications data. The justice minister advised Danes to be careful when using the internet.

"When you send things, you are also revealing your email address and it could potentially be abused,” he said. "You can not guard against people who have evil intentions.”

Skipper expressed shock at the justice minister’s attitude.

“This can’t really be his solution,” she told Berlingske.”It is irresponsible that he accepts a totalitarian society in which we can be watched by state authorities when communicating on the internet or telephone.”

READ MORE: Business lobby walks back US industrial espionage accusations

PET: No spying on Danish leaders
Neither Thorning-Schmidt nor any other Danish leaders have been spied on by the NSA, according to PET.

“There has been media coverage about information collected by the US intelligence agency NSA,” PET wrote in a press release. “PET has no basis to believe that Danish ministers or members of parliament have been tapped as part of such a collection of information.”

Media reports have been flying since Wednesday that German chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone may have been bugged by the NSA, but Thorning-Schmidt said that she has no reason to suspect that her phone has been similarly listened to, and she would not comment on anything that happened elsewhere in Europe.

“I only know what I have seen in the press and cannot go into the German situation,” she told Ritzau.

Although Denmark is not currently part of a joint Franco-German initiative to find out more about the NSA surveillance, Thorning-Schmidt would not rule out co-operating at a later time.

“We are not excluding anything out of hand,” she told Politiken newspaper. “I do not believe we are in the same situation as Germany and France. We have no reason to believe that there have been illegal US intelligence activities in relation to Denmark or Danish interests.”

Greenwald: Revelations coming
Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist who released the NSA data leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, said that more revelations about Denmark and the NSA will be made public in the coming months.

“Sweden and Denmark both have very close relationship with the NSA and have adopted many of their methods,” Greenwald told Berlingske. “As a result, their thinking is very similar.”



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