No increased transparency of intelligence agency

Danes can ask new independent committee to see if any illegal information is held about them by intelligence agencies, but they can’t get an answer

The new oversight committees for Denmark’s domestic intelligence agency PET will not make the agency's actions more transparent to the public, Berlingske newspaper reports.

In January, the government presented a proposed new law to give politicians more control over PET. The proposal involves a creation of a new independent oversight commission called 'Tilsynet med Efterretningstjenesterne', which will replace the current five-person Wamberg Committee and is intended to increase the level of oversight over the information that PET stores about Danish citizens.

The new five-person commission will be allowed much greater access to PET’s files, databases and IT systems and will be able to demand that PET delete any information that is being stored illegally.

Residents will also be able to ask the commission whether PET has illegally stored any information about them and, if so, request that it be deleted.

But according to Berlingske, members of the public will never be allowed to find out if PET has stored any information about them. Instead, they will be given one standard answer: “PET does not gather information about the inquirer without good reason.”

Legal expert Pernille Boye Koch from the University of Southern Denmark argued that the law would change little for the average Dane.

“I think that this new law has been oversold when it is said that it gives increased control over PET,” Koch told Berlingske. “They have chosen a very restrictive and minimal model that heavily favours PET.”

Peter Skaarup, the legal spokesperson for Dansk Folkeparti (DF), said he was very satisfied with the law but agreed that it had been oversold by the Justice Ministry.

“It isn’t an enormous change and that’s fine,” Skaarup told Berlingske. “What’s important to us is that the new law doesn’t become a weight around PET’s neck and that PET will still be able to share information with intelligence agencies in other countries and continue to protect Denmark.”

The new oversight committee will also start to control the intelligence agency’s use of secret agents. The government will now inform the oversight committee once a year about PET’s use of civilian agents.

The committee will not have the same powers to investigate whether PET illegally conducts illegal surveillance, which is the case in countries like Norway. Instead, the justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne) has said that the control over the correct use of surveillance will be left up to the courts and internal control within PET.

“It’s true that the new oversight committee won’t check [the legality of surveillance],” Bødskov told Berlingske. “But what’s new is that if the new oversight committee discovers any illegal activity by a coincidence they will be able to inquire about it and inform the appropriate authority.”

The new PET law has been criticised for not going far enough and leaving Denmark with less oversight over PET than other countries have on their intelligence agencies. It has also been criticised for the fact that while the new commission will receive five million kroner to undertake its work, PET will receive 11.6 million in addition to its annual 800 million kroner budget, to answer the inquiries.

The three government parties, along with opposition parties Venstre, DF and Konservative, have agreed on the new set of laws for PET and the military intelligence agency, FE, that are being voted on in parliament this week.

The laws will for the first time clearly outline the roles of PET and FE and which sort of activities they are allowed to undertake.

FE will for the first time have its remit defined by law, while the 1968 parliamentary directive forbidding PET from starting files on people because of their political beliefs will also be written into law.

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